Trump’s election has shifted a lot of things. But it probably hasn’t shifted the fact that people want good jobs, their health, and a renewable energy economy that helps us tackle climate change, the greatest challenge of our lifetimes. While there’s a lot to fear from the president-elects band of miscreants, racists and doom bringers, we should still recognize that all isn’t lost for us on climate and energy.
It’s true that we have a fight on our hands. Scott Pruitt has been nominated to be head the EPA which is like putting a drug cartel in charge of the DEA. Yes. Rex Tillerson was the head of ExxonMobil, a mega-corporation that studied climate science only to deny it with millions upon millions of dollars in public relations campaigns and lobbying. He also fought fracking near his home while Exxon shoved it on the nation’s poor and rural people. Thankfully, Tillerson’s been grilled during his confirmation hearings.
It’s no time to be someone with rose-tinted glasses. The architects of the global carbon cartel try to spin the public with a “moral case for fossil fuels.” That’s not working particularly well with the public, so they’re attacking clean and renewable energy and public good will around climate policy. Start with the first.
The Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) wants you to believe Americans love fossil fuels. We don’t. They are trying to say that the Democratic Party is wildly out of step with some consensus that transcends political ideology. They’re not. The Republican Party is out of sync with the American public but beholden to a base that’s glued to identity politics. Former EPA administrators like Christine Todd-Whitman and William Reilly know this and say as much. There’s a brutal irony that the Americans who’ve hated identity politics are now doubling down on it. Such is the tribal law of some parts of the Republican Party that there’s practically omertà around climate change.
ALEC is using some fine Orwellian rhetoric to block sensible energy policy to defend their polluting backers. In all of the bluster of the campaign, the dire rhetoric of the transition, and Trump’s self-involved carnival barking Twitter feed it’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on. But on issues with profound effects on our health, our public land, water, and air, on jobs, and our climate future, we can’t lose sight of how ALEC’s merchants of doubt are trying to interfere with sensible energy and climate policy.
A few months back, ALEC’s Daniel Cochrane posted “Charting the Left’s Misguided War on Fossil Fuels” and “Energy Policy Reform: The Democrats” on their blog. Both pieces essentially attack the Democrats for making “a clear leftward shift over previous years.” But in fact, “the shift” is no longer to the left. “The shift” is mainstream.
ALEC poses as just another pro-American liberty and freedom group. But that’s just fake folksiness to hide an extremist corporatist agenda. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, ALEC is a pay-to-play legislative group that crafts dirty energy pro-corporate bills. Over 98% of their funding comes from corporate donors like Exxon Mobil and corporate foundations including ” Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife family Allegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation.” They are part of an elaborate network that has set the ideological agenda of the wider corporate and conservative networks. They include “conservative think tanks, front groups established by the fossil fuels industry con-train scientists, conservative politicians, and conservative media—especially Fox News, newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, and talk radio” according to sociologist Riley Dunlap. They’ve also attempted to ruin the personal and professional lives of climate scientists like Michael Mann and Ben Santer. Sadly, this ugly conspiracy has created an ultra-partisan atmosphere that’s made climate change denial a litmus test for Republicans for some time. That’s changed in a way that makes the ALEC posts hard to swallow.
Cochrane seems to think that there “has been general widespread agreement across the ideological spectrum that fossil fuel development is, on balance, a good thing.” Going back a few years shows that’s not quite true. It’s not pants-on-fire or four Pinnochios. It’s more complicated than that. But it’s still not true.
In 2013, Gallup found that a clear majority of Americans supported putting “more emphasis” on natural gas for energy production. Less than half of Americans thought the same for oil and fewer than a third responded that we should do so for coal. That’s not widespread agreement on happiness with nor a moral case for fossil fuels. That’s enthusiasm for natural gas and optimism for fracking before people learned much about it.
The “widespread agreement” has gone away across the board, and fracking is a good example. In 2016, Gallup found that 51% of people oppose fracking while 36% support it. In 2015, those numbers were 40% to 40%. The remainders are undecided or have no opinion. Two years does not a trend make. But natural gas has been touted by the industry and politicians as clean and even sustainable for quite some time. Recent methane numbers from across North America are not making natural gas look any better and the growing perception that the gas industry are bullies, I predict, won’t cause Americans to like it much more. Regardless, the American public “in recent years” does not seem to believe Cochrane’s alleged consensus.
Americans want clean and renewable energy. Going back to the ’13 numbers you’ll see that 76% of respondents want to emphasize solar and 71% want wind. Fast forward to ’16 and we have a similar finding. 73% of people want to incentivize alternative energy–read wind and solar–instead of fossil fuels. There is a partisan difference (of course): Republicans want to do so by a slim majority of 51% compared to a previous high of 46% in 2011. I’ll be the first to say that we don’t have a decades-long trend in either case. But the five-year trend Gallup shows is both statistically robust and meaningful. And it’s capped off by other research from 2016 that finds, “Support for using more renewable energy cuts across party lines (it is supported by 85% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 76% of Republicans.”
People want a cleaner and renewable energy system and less-polluting energy production fossil fuel.
There are various reasons for these findings. Fuel prices have gone down as Gallup cites. There’s an increased alignment between public concern about climate change, a sizable majority of all voters asserting we should stay in the Paris Agreement in November 2016, scientific consensus and expert risk assessments. And the price of solar PV keeps coming down, making it increasingly cost-competitive. As the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported late last year, majorities–in some cases overwhelming majorities–want greenhouse gases to be taxed, want greenhouse gases to be regulated, for the government to support research and development of renewable energy and for the government to provide incentives to people for using renewable energy. They also want the government to support coal field workers through things like the RECLAIM Act. And, as a prominent energy reporter told me, people simply love solar. They love it in a way that Americans haven’t loved an energy thing-a-ma-jig since we built the grid and electrified homes.
It’s true that some folks live in a bizarro-world where the Republican platform makes sense. I don’t understand it but they do. Yes. Trump and company continue to call climate change a hoax, prompting California governor Jerry Brown to say, “Trump says global warming is a hoax. I say Trump is a fraud. Trump says there’s no drought in California. I say Trump lies.” That’s gonna be a fun interaction to watch over the coming presidential term as California essentially tells the government to go to hell. And Brown has said he’ll use California’s legal, economic, and political clout–even sending satellites up for climate monitoring–to fight the Trump administration. It’s not Brown who’s moving conservatives. It’s good will, lower costs, prosperity, energy independence, and a cleaner environment that make it easier for conservatives to come on board.
Plenty of conservatives are onboard with tackling climate change and clean energy. As I’ve written previously, there’s a bipartisan Climate Solutions caucus congress. Representatives Curbelo (R-Fl) and Deutch (D-Fl) came together to tackle what Curbelo calls “climate debt.” They have done so after New York Republic Chris Gibson got a dozen Republicans to sign an amendment last year calling for action on climate change (HRes 424). John Kasich stood out from the Republican presidential candidates this saying that we can pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy that includes wind and solar and he recently vetoed a Republican-backed bill in Ohio that would have gutted wind. Kasich is basically where Obama was 8 years ago. But we are already miles ahead of that and many miles ahead of where ALEC wants you to think we are. And there are conservatives outside of congress like Bob Inglis who’s saying we have “a moral obligation to do energy so much better” and the folks at Risky Business like former Reagan cabinet member George Shultz who are pushing for a price on carbon, a move that would enable the market decide on energy.
Across the left and right, business owners, investors, scientists, economists, and regular people know that the energy market is changing for the better. The “widespread agreement” on fossil fuels doesn’t exist. It’s newspeak by a command and control corporate elite who want capitalism for them and the dregs for the rest of us. ALEC and Trump’s transition team are peddling doubt as their product through mass media in a brazen attempt manufacture consent. Since they have no mandate, they have to trick us. But the people of the United States want a sustainable energy future that balances the needs of the present with an economy that supports more of us and we won’t be stopped.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be thrilled to be able to turn on the lights and know that it didn’t require someone’s well be polluted in Pavilion, Wyoming or southwest Pennsylvania or that a holler in Kentucky or West Virginia had to be ruined by coal ash. I want to stop being forced to be part of the reason that children are starving in Madagascar from a massive dry spell or that indigenous Louisianans from Isle de Jean Charles are being displaced by rising seas.
If there’s real widespread agreement, it’s that “We the people” want a clean and climate-smart energy economy now. And better than that, it’s happening. So long as people of focused good will keep pushing, no amount of hand-waving by ALEC and the rest of the deniers is going to stop it.