Back in 2013, Donald Trump had a bit of a hissy fit. The problem? In his mind, the planned construction of majestic wind turbines off the coast of Scotland would mess up the view from his newly built golf course. So Trump, in typical bellicose Trump fashion, went to war against an elegant and beneficial energy source:
Donald Trump isn’t happy. So, as usual, he’s making a big fuss.
The trouble this time? Not Barack Obama’s birth certificate. No. It’s windmills. In this case eleven wind turbine generators slated to be built in the ocean near a new golf course Trump constructed in Scotland.
The wind mills will provide power for a much as half of local residents and cost only about 400 million dollars. Trump’s golf course will cost 1.2 billion and suck up a goodly portion of its own energy while giving nothing back. One project produces a luxury that many residents of the Scotland coast will be unable to enjoy. Another produces renewable, zero GHG emission power that benefits everyone in the region and has much larger benefits around the globe.
Yet Donald Trump’s hoity-toity 1.2 billion golf course is too good for those helpful turbines. Trump, invoking the royal ‘we,’ says “We will spend whatever monies are necessary to see to it that these huge and unsightly industrial wind turbines are never constructed.”
In the end, Donald Trump engaged in a two-year legal battle to stop these wind turbines. A battle that he ultimately lost. But not only did he lose his fight to kill the turbines — he earned himself the disdain of the Scots and many Britons as well. A Scottish leader dubbed Trump ‘three times a loser.’ And hundreds of thousands of Britons signed a petition to have him banned from coming to the UK.
(Wind turbines in the gloaming. Which would you rather have — these gossamer beauties or another golf course for 1 percenters? Image source: Emaze.)
Trump’s self-destructive tilting at wind turbines would be comical — if this kind of socially and environmentally damaging behavior were not endemic to a vast majority of currently-elected republicans. And, in fact, this episode of Trump’s blindness to public sentiment, self-important ranting, and unfounded ideological attacks on a helpful energy source could well be seen as microcosm to the responses of the republican party to the threat posed by human-caused climate change and to its potential mitigations over at least the past three decades.
Who, after all, was the party of drill, baby, drill, fight to defend coal, attack the EPA, dismantle the Clean Water Act, kill the Clean Air Act? Who was it that fought practically every government support for wind, solar, and electric vehicles? Who was it that attacked every international climate agreement even before the signature ink was drying? Who endlessly harangued the IPCC? Who, again and again, attempted to de-fund NASA and NOAA climate science research initiatives? Who stymied a carbon tax, a gas tax, or any other incentive policy that would help people move away from carbon-based energy sources? Who brought snowballs into the Senate as ‘evidence’ that climate change was a ‘fraud,’ despite more objective proofs for human-caused global warming than for the theory of gravity itself?
(Global heat spiral shows planetary warming since 1850. Once you realize that high levels of climate danger are reached at the 1.5 C and 2 C threshold, this graph really hits you like a sucker punch. But, in order to protect their fossil fuel allies from a much needed energy switch, many republicans are willing to pretend a rapid spiral toward more and worse climate disasters isn’t happening. In other words, they’re willing to put the lives and livelihoods of American citizens at risk for the sake of a single, destructive industry. Image source: Ed Hawkins.)
Who fought Obama’s Clean Power Plan? And who, when their legislative roadblocks failed, drummed up 27 fossil-fuel aligned governors to mount a legal challenge for the plan in the US Supreme Court? If there was ever a party that turned support of fossil fuels and denial of climate change into a brand name, then it was republicans.
And this year appears to be an opportunity for republicans to be paid back in full for their bad climate actions by an increasingly informed and concerned electorate. For according to a report today in the Washington Post, fully 64 percent of Americans are worried either a ‘great deal’ or a ‘fair amount’ about climate change — a number that includes 40 percent of self-identified republican voters. In addition, the cited Gallup poll also found that 65 percent of Americans now believe that climate change is human-caused. That’s still not in line with 97 to 98 percent of scientists — but it’s more than enough to influence an election.
And Hillary Clinton, the current democratic front-runner, appears to be homing in on an issue that may well prove to be the weak underbelly of the republican party this year. Chris Mooney, in the Washington Post today found that:
“The Clinton campaign sees polling showing profound political vulnerability on climate for the Republicans generally and Trump specifically, so the Clinton camp intends to push climate themes aggressively, ” adds Paul Bledsoe, who worked on climate issues in the former Clinton White House and is now an independent energy consultant. “They see GOP climate denial fitting into a larger narrative of Trump and the Republicans being willing to deny factual information injurious to the American public just because it doesn’t fit into Tea Party ideology. That will be a meta-theme of the campaign, and climate fits into it.”
Clinton earlier today announced her overall climate strategy should she be elected. One that included hopes for a carbon tax, but that looked to pragmatically work with Congress over renewable energy funding initiatives. One that continued to build on initiatives already set in place by Obama. Clinton also hinted that she’d treat climate change as a national and international security issue — setting up a climate situation map in the White House. And though Clinton may not be quite as climate-hawkish as the outspoken and passionate Bernie Sanders (which is one of many reasons why I still hope Bernie wins, but it’s looking increasingly like a long-shot), she is certainly a far cry from the wind-killing Trump or any other potential republican candidate (Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan) for that matter.
(With the price of solar cells falling by more than 99 percent since the 1970s, both wind and solar energy are now competitive with coal and gas. In addition, National Renewable Energy Lab figures indicate that over a 30 year lifespan solar energy system averaged a very strong Energy Return on Energy Invested of between 8 and 18 in most cases and as high as 30 in the highest efficiency, lowest material use modules — competitive with both wind and fossil fuels. On the back of these strong economics, solar has caught up with wind and together the two represented 2/3 of installed new power generation in 2015. Clinton’s stated policies would leverage the strengths of renewable energy systems to help mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Image source: Commons.)
Trump, for his own part, has stated “I am not a big believer in man-made climate change.” So no climate change response plan. No situation room like Clinton’s. He has pledged to do away with all of Obama’s executive orders (including the Clean Power Plan). And he has pledged to de-fund the EPA (thereby removing the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions). Trump has also pledged to reinvigorate the dirty coal industry and to double down on fracking. In other words, true to his wind-killing history in Scotland, Trump would be a nightmare candidate during a time in which the worst effects of climate change are now starting to ramp up.
If Trump and Clinton become the nominees and Clinton decides to use republicans’ vulnerability to the issue of climate change to the fullest, it’s possible that not only would Trump suffer, but so would many other republicans down-ticket. Republican voters from a growing number of regions (like the key battleground state of Florida — which is at risk of having its southern 1/6th rapidly flooded out by sea level rise) are facing increasingly obvious harms as a result of fossil fuel related warming. So there’s a clear vulnerability here if the climate change message is communicated correctly. And if this is the case — if the Senate returns to Democratic hands and if those concerned about climate change get a shot at the House — then we may not just have to settle for clean energy incentives. We could have a decent shot at a carbon tax.
And to this point — for any republican out there in the woods who is listening — even former Ronald Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz (back from the days when republicans were just a little bit wiser and even-handed than they are today) supports a carbon tax:
“I have long advocated a revenue-neutral carbon tax,” Shultz said. “It’s just there to level the playing field. Because you want sources of energy to compete equally and to bear the costs of what they produce.”
But Shultz comes from an era when respectable republicans didn’t do silly things like go tilting at solar panels and wind turbines.
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob
Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs