Obamas complicated legacy on climate change
By appointing Rex Tillerson, chief executive of the oil company
ExxonMobil, as secretary of state, Trump not only assures the fossil economy that it sits next to his heart, he also provides comfort to another supporter: Vladimir Putin. It was Tillerson who brokered the $500bn (407bn) deal between Exxon and the state-owned Russian company Rosneft to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic. As a result he was presented with the Russian Order of Friendship by Putin.
The deal was stopped under the sanctions the US imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine. The probability of these sanctions in their current form surviving a Trump government is, to the nearest decimal place, a snowballs chance in hell. If Russia did interfere in the US election, it will be
handsomely rewarded when the deal goes ahead.
Trumps nominations for
energy secretary and interior secretary are both climate change deniers, who quite coincidentally have a long history of sponsorship by the fossil fuel industry. His proposed attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, allegedly failed to disclose in his declaration of interests that he leases land to an oil company.
The man nominated to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, has spent much of his working life campaigning against the Environmental Protection Agency. As the attorney general in Oklahoma, he launched 14 lawsuits against the EPA, seeking, among other aims, to strike down its Clean Power Plan, its limits on the mercury and other heavy metals released by coal plants and its protection of drinking water supplies and wildlife. Thirteen of these suits were said to include as co-parties
companies that had contributed to his campaign funds or to political campaign committees affiliated to him.
Trumps appointments reflect what I call the Pollution Paradox. The more polluting a company is, the more money it must spend on politics to ensure it is not regulated out of existence. Campaign finance therefore comes to be dominated by dirty companies, ensuring that they wield the greatest influence, crowding out their cleaner rivals. Trumps cabinet is stuffed with people who owe their political careers to filth.
It was once possible to argue, rightly or wrongly, that the human benefits of developing fossil fuel reserves might outweigh the harm. But a combination of more refined climate science, which now presents the risks in stark terms, and the plummeting costs of clean technologies renders this argument as obsolete as a coal-fired power station.
As the US burrows into the past,
China is investing massively in renewable energy, electric cars and new battery technologies. The Chinese government claims that this new industrial revolution will generate 13m jobs. This, by contrast to Trumps promise to create millions of jobs through reanimating coal, at least has a chance of materialising. It is not just that returning to an old technology when better ones are available is difficult; it is also that coal mining has been automated to the extent that it now supports few jobs. Trumps attempt to revive the fossil era will serve no one but the coal barons.
Understandably, commentators have been seeking glimpses of light in Trumps position. But there are none. He could not have made it clearer, through his public statements, the
Republican platform and his appointments, that he intends to the greatest extent possible to shut down funding for both climate science and clean energy, rip up the Paris agreement, sustain fossil fuel subsidies and annul the laws that protect people and the rest of the world from the impacts of dirty energy.
His candidacy was represented as an insurgency, challenging established power. But his position on climate change reveals what should have been obvious from the beginning: he and his team represent the incumbents, fighting off insurgent technologies and political challenges to moribund business models. They will hold back the tide of change for as long as they can. And then the barrier will burst.
Twitter: @GeorgeMonbiot. A fully linked version of this column will be published at monbiot.com