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“Injurious to the American People” — Republicans to Receive a Well-Deserved Drubbing Over Decades of Climate Change Denial in 2016 Election

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.

Turbines in the Gloaming

(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 warming since 1850

(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.

Plummeting Price of Solar Energy

(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.

Links:

Donald Trump’s Money Would be Better Spent Building Wind Farms

The 97 Percent Consensus

He’ll Take the Low Road — Trump’s Tortured History With Scotland

Trump — I’m Still a Birther

Emaze

Ed Hawkins

National Renewable Energy Lab Calls Claims of EROEI Constraints on Solar a Myth

The Growth of Photovoltaics

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

Hat Tip to TodaysGuestIs

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Obama Team Not Open to Carbon Tax? So How Best to Move Forward on Climate Change?

Today, White House spokesman Jay Carney at a press briefing told reporters that the Obama Administration would not consider a carbon tax to help reduce US carbon emissions. Carney stated:

“We would never propose a carbon tax and have no intention of proposing one. The point the president was making is that our focus right now is the same as the American people’s focus, which is on the need to extend economic growth, expand job creation.”

Carney then went on to talk about how the Administration was primarily focused on US jobs creation efforts and that any climate change measures would have to fit into the larger jobs growth and economy puzzle.

Unfortunately, Carney seems to think that the notion of a carbon tax and economic growth are incompatible. A notion the 75 billion dollar and growing disaster that was Superstorm Sandy, an idea the 75+ billion dollar drought in the heartland, both well belie. A notion that the, ever-increasing, cost of fossil fuel extraction also drastically undermines. But Carney is, likely, just denying republicans and others who support low tax rates for the wealthy a way to transfer more of the tax burden onto middle and lower income Americans.

In recent weeks, it appears republicans were tinkering with the carbon tax as a means to increase the tax burden for working Americans while lowering it for the wealthy. And this is an effort to certainly be avoided. The problem lies in just how a carbon tax would be implemented. Would it be, primarily, a punitive tax on energy consumption? In such a case, it would almost certainly harm the prospects of working Americans, unless, of course, the taxes were re-invested in the economy in a way that benefited workers and middle class families.

With world climate agencies noting that civilization-wrecking climate impacts emerge if we burn just 20-30 percent of the world’s current fossil fuel reserves, it does, indeed, appear that a major disincentive for burning fossil fuels should be in the offing. And that such a disincentive would preserve the possibility of growth and prosperity, rather than undermine it.

If the Administration were to re-consider the notion of a carbon tax, they could very well employ such a tax in a growth neutral or even pro-growth fashion. In a way that didn’t harm working families, but helped. In such a case, the tax would not just be punitive, it would be an incentive. James Hansen’s tax and transfer plan would result in a carbon tax at the well-head or point of sale being directly transferred to individuals as a subsidy. The result would be, on the one hand, increasing carbon costs, and, on the other hand, money in the pockets of Americans incentivized to purchase low or no carbon fuels and technologies. The result would be a gradual phasing out of carbon based energy without an overall punitive impact to US growth. If transfer is an unsavory notion for politicians, then the money generated from taxes could be directly invested in renewable, zero-carbon, energy systems and in re-training programs for persons who may lose their jobs in high-carbon industries. Such programs would both create new jobs and reduce or eliminate losses from old industries.

The fact that such basic notions aren’t obvious is somewhat disconcerting. Loss of coal mining jobs, for instance, may be a forgone conclusion. But if these workers can be re-trained to work on wind and solar facilities, then the result is a net gain. Especially when you consider the fact that each renewable energy dollar spent results in three times the amount of jobs stimulus as each fossil fuel dollar spent. Such increases in labor may not result in the kind of concentrations of profits as the old oil and coal industries. But the effects of such wealth hoarding have already proven very damaging to the US economy as a whole.

That said, and to the Obama Administration’s credit, they may well be attempting to avoid maintaining lower tax rates on the wealthiest Americans through the vehicle of a carbon tax. And, in such a case, it is obvious why that kind of trade-off should be avoided.

However, if a carbon tax is off the table, there are a number of other measures that can still be pursued. Below are just a few examples:

Renew the Production Tax Credit

The first would be the immediate renewal of the production tax credit for wind and solar energy. Preferably, this renewal would be for a full decade. Such a long-term renewal would provide stability for the growing US wind and solar industries and spur investment in these key technologies, keeping the rate of adoption high. Growth in these critical industries would result in a powerful engine for generating new jobs.

Cut Tax Incentives for the Fossil Fuel Industry

Over 40 billion dollars in tax incentives have gone to the oil and gas industry. Yet the industry continues to produce record profits. Given this clear math, such incentives are entirely unnecessary and wasteful.

Provide Subsidy and Incentive For Smart Grid and Energy Storage

Thousands of jobs could be created through wise investments in both a smart grid and in powerful new energy storage technologies. Both will be necessary if we are to smoothly handle a growing portion of our energy coming from renewables. This powerful new infrastructure will serve as a mechanism to enhance economic growth for decades to come.

Establish a Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Fund

Set aside a portion of savings from winding down the war in Afghanistan, from levelized military spending, and from removing tax incentives for the fossil fuel industry for two purposes. The first would be for direct investment in critical new clean energy technologies (wind, solar, evs, low-carbon farming, new energy systems, economic and non-damaging carbon capture). The second would be for hardening the nation’s infrastructure to the potential new harms caused by climate change. Research into new farming techniques more adapted to a drier climate and deployment of more resilient coastal infrastructure are examples. Care must be noted that mitigation should receive equal or greater funding as it is impossible to adapt to the worst instances of human caused climate change.

Retraining Initiatives for New Industries

Provide funding for individuals who have lost their jobs to train in critical new industries related to mitigating climate change, responding to climate emergencies, and to adapting to a changing climate. Funds should be targeted to jobless college graduates and to workers who lose their jobs in fossil fuel based industries. A portion of this funding would go to establishing relationships with new industry players and facilitating employment.

Establishing Wind and Solar Energy Corridors in Farm and Fossil Fuel Country

Provide incentive for the development of alternative energy in areas where economies were previously dominated by fossil fuels. This diversification would result in economic resilience in these regions, providing a source of new jobs and added stability. Particularly critical is developing these new energy sources for the Appalachian region where workers have been victimized by exploitative coal barons such as Massey. Also useful would be the development of clean energy technologies in farming regions. The result would be the preservation of lands used for food production as well as providing a safety net for these regions in the event of extended harm to farming due to drought.

Use the EPA to Regulate and Reduce Carbon

Provide base-lines for carbon reductions from key industries via the EPA. Increase these base-lines over time. Use the EPA to provide efficiency standards for appliances, vehicles and other equipment. Push efficiency standards higher over time.

Provide a Fund For Renewable Energy Laboratories at the Nation’s Public Schools

Invest public money in incentivizing purchases of solar panels for public schools. Establish science curriculum at these schools that involve students directly in the management of the school’s solar energy resources. Teach the science of clean energy and environmental stewardship at these schools.

Provide and Maintain Tax Incentives for Home Owners and Businesses to Install Solar Panels, Purchase Electric Vehicles

Set aside monies that incentivize the installation of solar panels for US homes and businesses. Set aside and maintain similar incentives for electric vehicles.

Shut Down Dirty Coal Plants, Sell Public Land Coal, Fossil Fuels at Higher Prices

About 6% of US electricity production comes from old, dirty plants. Use the EPA to rapidly phase these plants out. Furthermore, many fossil fuel companies purchase mining rights for US coal, oil, and natural gas on public lands at a pittance. Increase the royalty payments required to access those resources.

Remove Regulatory Hurdles for the Installation of Wind and Solar on US Homes and Businesses

In many regions, the regulatory hurdles for installing wind and solar for US homes and businesses is punitive and prohibitive. Remove these hurdles to increase the rate of home owner and business new technology adoption.

Require that all New Homes and Buildings include Solar

Requiring that every new home and building in the US include solar energy systems would greatly enhance solar energy adoption in the US.

Require EV Recharge Station Installation for all New Streets and Parking Lots

Requiring that all new parking facilities and refurbished streets require EV charging stations would rapidly increase the adoption potential for US electric vehicles.

Set a Carbon Tariff on Goods Produced by High-Carbon Economies Coming Into the US

Set a tariff on goods produced by countries with high-carbon economies. Provide exceptions if those goods come from facilities that switch to low-carbon or zero carbon energy sources. Such a carbon tariff would help to leverage the US’s strength as importer to reduce global carbon emissions.

These are just a few initiatives that could be pursued that will incentivize US jobs growth while also resulting in the rapid deployment of high-efficiency and zero-carbon technologies.

UPDATE:

It appears that the climate blogosphere is somewhat abuzz with outrage over Obama’s not supporting a carbon tax. There’s some good discussion on the issue here:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/11/16/1206321/new-york-times-slams-obama-for-lame-flip-flop-on-economic-benefit-of-climate-action/

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