A lot was said during the campaign about the environment in particular that worries us all, but in the famous words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic!
All hope isn’t lost, and the ‘Trump Effect’ on the environment may end up being more benign.
Donald Trump’s rhetoric in the lead up to his historic election win on Tuesday was dismissive of environmental issues, vowing at one point during his campaign to: dismantle the US EPA and completely halt subsidies for renewables; he is bullish on coal mining, its use domestically and its export to other countries; and he is disturbingly anti-science, claiming that climate change is a hoax created to benefit the Chinese and that he will tear up the Paris Agreement.
Of course, with such rhetoric in the lead up to his election victory, you would expect those of us with a mission to create a post-carbon global economy and avert catastrophic global warming might be a little concerned about a Trump victory.
I should state here now that for part of my day job as a Communications Advisor I work with the Nordics’ largest Cleantech Investment Fund and Accelerator, Cleantech Invest. This article is not written to promote them or their share (although, it is a pretty good share).
This is my opinion as a concerned global citizen who happens to know a thing or two about business and the environment, and who has this opportunity to communicate with the surfing community my thoughts.
So, what does Trump’s election mean for the environment and the policies and business decisions that have been steering us in an okay direction so far?
It doesn’t matter if Trump is pro-coal because coal is already terminally ill.
It is quite obvious that Trump ramped up his rhetoric on coal and its importance to the US economy in order to secure votes in coal mining states. He would not have been assured those votes otherwise. To be fair to the people in these coal states, the prospect of losing your job and the severe impacts that an unplanned winding up of an entire industry would have on your community would concern all of us. Their vote for Trump was their last hope.
But this hope that he would save the coal industry and their jobs is hopeless. These voters are going to be very disappointed when the industry collapses suddenly due to poor planning and preparation for a world of low coal demand.
“Coal is already terminally ill and the only ones who will suffer from Trump’s ill-devised promise are the coal workers themselves.”
Global demand for coal is waning as developing economies seek out cleaner and cheaper alternatives. The global divestment movement, which has seen Norway’s largest sovereign wealth fund divest from coal entirely, is not going to disappear either. In addition, Finland has announced that it plans to be coal free in the very near future too. Coal is already terminally ill and the only ones who will suffer from Trump’s promise are the coal workers themselves, who will be unprepared for coal’s inevitable collapse.
Trump can hype coal all he wants; economics and diminishing demand won’t change its fate.
Trump will dismantle environmental regulators and stop subsidies for renewables.
The question of whether or not Trump will seek to dismantle the Environment Protection Authority remains an open question. It should be said that dismantling a part of the bureaucracy isn’t a new idea, and it can’t be said that it has never been done before either. What is obvious is that such an outcome will not be achieved easily or without costing Trump a lot of political capital in the process.
“The environmental and indigenous rights movements should not be underestimated in their ability to mobilise and challenge the exploitation of natural areas in the court system and through direct action.”
No doubt it will be a sad day if Trump acts out his promise, and the protection of the environment within the US will be imperilled in some places that is certain. But the environmental and indigenous rights movements should not be underestimated in their ability to mobilise and challenge the exploitation of natural areas in the court system and through direct action (particularly areas under the stewardship of indigenous peoples in the US).
On the question of Trump halting subsidies for renewables, we can all be thankful that the past decade saw a stable policy platform that included subsidization for renewables result in the likes of Solar City, Tesla and others develop their technologies and business models to the point that they no longer need subsidies at all. Even if Trump stops subsidies for renewables, the years of development and government supported incubation of many clean technologies has already taken place, seeing a number of technologies now able to compete with fossil fuels on their own terms.
Elon Musk has nearly completed the Tesla Gigafactory (and plans to build another in Europe), solar is on more than a million rooftops in the US (and a million more in Australia too) and not stopping, and in addition to these milestones is one very important point that should put your minds at ease - more countries than not will continue to support the growth of renewables and this will continue to see new technologies developed and exported to the US market. The only thing that Trump’s policy of ending subsidies for renewables in the US will result in is that the US economy will miss out on creating the environmental business success stories of the next 20 years, relinquishing this economic opportunity to other smarter and more innovative economies.
They had Silicon Valley, but with Trump they won’t have the same type of economic opportunity in the clean technology space.
Trump can destroy clean technology innovation and environmental business in the US if he wants, it won’t affect innovation continuing in the Nordics, China or elsewhere.
Trump is disturbingly anti-science and he will tear up the Paris Agreement
Donald Trump is allowed to be as dumb as he likes when it comes to scientific facts and denying climate science itself. It was only 2 years ago that both Australia and Canada had leaders who denied the same fact of our warming planet and this didn’t stop the growth of renewables and energy efficiency in both of those countries.
Fact: Australia today has the highest number of rooftop solar installations per capita in the world, and this was done even with a Prime Minister who famously stated that climate change was ‘absolute crap’.
“The economics of solar, wind and energy efficiency don’t care for climate denial from world leaders.”
Australia achieved this feat because the economics of solar and wind don’t care for climate denial from world leaders. The marginal costs of both solar and wind will always be lower than coal that is mined and gas that is fracked, and consumers will only become more activist in their purchasing decisions in a free market. And Trump loves a free market.
Ask many of the Australians who installed solar why they have done it and I would argue that a majority of them acted out of economic self-interest and household budgets ahead of environmental concerns. That is why consumer choices to install rooftop solar and soon storage is now beyond political ideologies. These are now becoming every day, ‘over the kitchen-table’ economic decisions that are only made easier with the development of Tesla’s solar roof just the other day. It doesn’t matter if Trump denies the science behind what started the clean energy revolution.
What happens with the Paris Agreement though is a different discussion and one that is even more difficult to predict.
The global community rejoiced at the political unity that was achieved through the Paris Agreement. Never before had so many countries come together to agree on anything at all. This was a moment that we were all proud of, and it will never be forgotten.
So what can Trump do to tear it all down?
Sure, he could attempt to remove the US from the agreement, which is possible, but tricky.
The worst knock on effect from this will be that other large, polluting economies such as China and India will follow suit. This would be a very bad outcome. But the exit of other large contributors of greenhouse gas emissions is in no way assured.
You know those news stories of air quality so bad in Shanghai that people can’t leave their homes for risk of illness? That’s real, and cities like Shanghai are looking for solutions to solve these problems today because they not only affect their competitiveness in a global battle for talent (how much money do you need to be paid to live in Shanghai and get asthma?) but these problems of air quality in particular add to future health costs that are significant.
Additionally, in an increasingly urban world, our cities need to be healthy environments that inspire people and make them happy and productive, rather than sick and unproductive. Initiatives like C40 Cities developed by Michael Bloomberg and others are seeing Mayors around the world leading changes to how cities are developed. States like California and New York won’t change their own climate policies either.
“A good chunk of US GDP will become cleaner regardless of what Trump does.”
Did you know that California alone has the 6th largest economy in the world?Did you also know that they voted to ban plastic bags at this election, elected Democrats, and have extremely progressive environmental policies of their own? What this means is that a good chunk of US GDP will become cleaner regardless of what Trump does.
Trump can tear up international climate agreements, it doesn’t mean that other nations will follow or that US Governors and Mayors will change their own policies either.
Let’s be Honest: He Could Trump all of us in Other Ways
The election of Donald Trump has shaken markets and struck fear into the hearts of progressives around the world. It would be naïve to think that, while his attacks on the environment and claims about climate change are not the end of the world, there are other ways that his policies could produce turmoil in our world more broadly. Read this essay if you want to scare the shit out of yourself.
So, what are we supposed to do about hypothetical domestic policies that Trump and his advisors might be dreaming up?
“The people fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US aren’t waiting for politics to save the day.”
Not really much at all. We can hope for the best, give him the benefit of the doubt (even though he doesn’t deserve it), and double down on our efforts to bring about the type of changes that we have been working on regardless of politics.
The people fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US aren’t waiting for politics to save the day. And all of us have a lot of purchasing power to make a difference in our everyday lives (do you buy red meat from a supermarket? Stop that right now and you are making a huge positive impact).
As stated earlier in this article: if the US leadership decides to push against the tide of positive environmental change around the world, they can do their best, but this won’t change the trajectory. Leadership is happening in the Nordics, China, Europe, India, Africa and elsewhere anyway.
This is not a time to bury your head in the sand and hope for someone, somewhere to take control and create the world you hope for. We need to dust ourselves off, maintain the rage, and work together to make sure our own communities and networks begin taking the action needed to make our tomorrow something to be proud of.
Joshua Burguete-Kirkman / NSM
Illustration AK Rockefeller