'Wind Power not Wind Bags' rally in Edinburgh on the occasion of Donald Trump's appearance before the Scottish Parliament Energy and Tourism Committee, 25 April 2012. Photo: Friends of the Earth Scotland / Maverick Photo Agency via Ric Lander on Flickr (CC BY-SA).
Don't despair about Trump and climate change!
14th November 2016
The Trump Presidency may not be the climate disaster that many fear, writes Joe Ware. The transition to clean energy is increasingly driven by technology and economics, not politics. it was Obama's 'all of the above' energy policy that enabled the fracking revolution. And pro-fossil fuel measures instituted by Trump will now galvanise massive domestic and international opposition.
The fierce opposition Trump inspires has already been a useful catalyst for climate urgency: the Paris Agreement was the fastest international treaty to come into force due to the fear of a Trump Presidency.
At the COP 22 climate summit in Marrakesh last Wednesday, delegates woke up in stunned disbelief to the news that Donald Trump was to become the next President of the United States.
For those concerned with the fate of our climate (which should be all of us) there has been particularly apocalyptic predictions of impending Armageddon if Trump pulls the US out of the Paris Agreement and turns America into a coal belching, polluting pariah state.
But I believe everyone needs to step back from the ledge. Here is why.
The economics of energy are now on our side. The world is undergoing a global transition to a zero carbon economy and renewable energy is driving that. We still need political leadership but much of the heavy lifting in this transition is now economic and technological.
Solar and wind is now the cheapest form of energy in many places (including a number of US states), it is secure, home grown and non-polluting. Prices of renewables have fallen faster than every expectation. And we're on the cusp of a breakthrough in battery technology, which will be yet another game changer in the unstoppable growth of renewables.
Seriously, where are all those millions of jobs going to come from?
Trump has promised Americans that he will deliver millions of good jobs. The collapsing coal industry will not provide these. If he's going to succeed he cannot ignore the vast potential from clean tech. This isn't some minor sector: it will become one of the biggest and most important industries of the 21st century. If Trump ignores it he will be handing the second industrial revolution to China, India and EU countries among others.
Despite the narrow election victory, there are still plenty of forces within the United States working hard to retain America's prominent position on climate change. It has been at state and city level that much of the current progress has been made.
Local governments will still be seeking to further exploit their abundant resources of renewable energy. If Texas was a country it would be the sixth largest generator of wind power in the world. Likewise, American companies, both clean tech manufacturers and other firms down the supply chain, won't just stand aside and let the White House destroy their financial prospects.
Already insiders on Trump's transition team are saying energy is not a priority for policy change and that renewable subsidies will remain in place. And this is sensible. Although climate change science may divide American politicians, climate solutions unite the American public.
A Pew study only last month showed that 83% of Americans backed expansion of wind farms and 89% supported more solar power. As President Trump attempts to bring together a divided nation, policies with such cross party support would be a good place to start.
In creating the new international architecture, best have China on your side
America accounts for just 15% of global emissions. A four year Trump term alone won't wreck the climate. The Paris Agreement contains national plans from nearly every country in the world, and it was created in a bottom up way to withstand exactly the kind of turbulence caused by a Trump presidency. We now have international architecture in place and the rest of the world isn't simply going to let one man trash their planet.
China in particular is unlikely to let America simply walk away from its commitments unscathed. On Friday in Marrakesh the Chinese representatives were very clear that they remained committed to action on climate change and expected America to do so too.
China, as well as being the largest foreign owner of US debt, not to mention a global superpower, can exact considerable political and diplomatic pain on the States. If Trump wants to get anything done on trade and terrorism or any other number of international issues, he won't be able to act like a rogue state on climate. It is now a geopolitical issue of the highest magnitude and one of the few areas where there is such international consensus.
It's also likely we will get a different President Trump to the rabble rousing Republican candidate on the campaign trail. Once in office Trump will have different responsibilities, not just to generate headlines and get elected but to protect the American people.
Trump, and his children advisors, Ivanka, Donald Jr and Eric, are on record urging President Obama to deliver action on climate change in 2009 as part of a letter from business leaders in the New York Times. As a businessman Trump has already recognised the advantages of clean energy, let's hope in office, business trumps political partisanship. It would be ironic if having called for Obama to show global leadership on climate change it was Trump who squandered it.
Hold Trump to account - but don't paint him into a corner!
It's also worth remembering that during the first Presidential debate, Trump denied calling climate change a Chinese hoax. That concession was drowned out by his opponents pointing to his self-contradicting tweet saying otherwise. But if he is no longer claiming to be a climate change denier, let's note that and hold him to account not paint him into a corner.
Although Obama deserves much credit for his leadership unlocking the international efforts on climate change in the face of Republican opposition, it's worth noting that Democratic administrations have been far from perfect domestically. The Dakota Access Pipeline has continued under Obama's watch and coal, oil and gas licenses are being sold on public land.
And this ties in to the main reason Trump's presence on the scene may not be such a disaster: the fierce opposition he inspires. He has already been a useful catalyst for climate urgency, the Paris Agreement was the fastest international treaty to come into force due to the fear of a Trump Presidency.
No longer can countries, businesses and the public sleepwalk into complacent oblivion, assuming catastrophe will be averted just because a climate change believing Democrat is in the White House. Not only will this light a fire under nation states, those of us who care about the environment will realise we must now do our bit to ensure the gains of recent years are not lost.
The certainty of unswerving global opposition
If you're looking for something practical to do you can join the campaign writing to your bank calling them to stop investing your money in fossil fuel companies and instead shift it to renewables. You can join civil society organisations that campaign on climate change and help countries suffering its consequences.
And (in the UK) you can engage your MP. Already the language from BEIS Secretary of State Greg Clark praising renewables is more positive than his predecessor Amber Rudd.
Donald Trump is soon to become one of the most powerful people in the world. But even he cannot alter the laws of nature. Climate change will continue under his watch and he'll be held responsible for his actions to deal with it.
The world is a different place from eight years ago. The economics have changed, the geopolitical consensus has changed and Trump will face unswerving opposition if he tries the self-sabotage of climate destruction.
Joe Ware is a journalist and writer at Christian Aid and is a New Voices contributor to The Ecologist. He can be followed on twitter at @wareisjoe.
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