President Donald Trump’s climate change denialism, rather like climate change itself, has hardly been hidden, but also hasn’t been at the forefront. While less dramatic than his blatant callousness to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, it’s no less revealing of who he is: a plutocrat who acts for the big business elite he always represented, the one place his loyalties really lie.
NASA’s official website says that “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” The most important contributor is human emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs), especially carbon dioxide; which are primarily released through burning of fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and in particular coal. As NASA states, no reputable scientific body has ever disputed these facts.
Forty-four percent of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide come from coal, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
Climate Dynamics finds that, to keep future warming below the landmark Paris Agreement’s goal of no less than 2℃ (3.6℉) above preindustrial levels in a cost-effective way, and to best pursue its more ambitious goal of 1.5℃ (2.7℉), the world will have to end coal-fired electricity by about 2050.
But none of this matters to Trump. At heart, he is a billionaire among billionaires; and he has already shown himself more than willing to ignore the truth to protect his sponsors. What makes Trump’s denialism especially despicable is that “the people” he claims to represent clearly couldn’t be further from his mind, if the effect on lower-income Americans is any indication.
Like it or not, a coal-free energy economy is coming. CarbonBrief found that renewable energy’s share grew 15.2 percent per year from 2010-2015; while coal, oil, and gas all grew less than two percent. As former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in the New York Times, more than 250 US coal plants, nearly half the entire country’s, “have announced in recent years that they will close or switch to cleaner fuels”. Coal was responsible for half of U.S. electricity in 2007; now its share is about one-third. And meanwhile, the economy is growing steadily.
Not to mention in 2010, Americans were dying from coal pollution at a rate of 13,000 a year, a number that has dropped to 7,500 today, according to Clean Air Task Force. “When politicians talk about the ‘war on coal’”, Bloomberg writes, “they never mention the lives being saved.”
Consumer preferences are also shifting: in January 2017, Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans want to prioritize alternative energy sources, while only 27 percent want to prioritize fossil fuels– despite dropping oil and gas prices. In fact, coal miners formed only 0.019 percent of the U.S. workforce in May 2015, according to the Washington Post.
Trump’s promise to save the dying coal industry only delays the inevitable, doing nothing for the workers’ long-term standard of living. Even he should know that it helps no one to produce something that no one will buy. Coal sector job loss will continue, and then workers will be less likely to have developed competitive skills for the new market. By fighting for his coal executive sponsors, Trump is hurting the working class in the long run, who he could better serve through welfare nets, healthcare, and educational support so they could develop marketable skills.
In his denial of the imminent clean energy economy, he is the one responsible for coal production workers, and others in environmentally harmful industries, feeling left behind. Ironically enough, it is Democrats who truly understand the unstoppable market forces that Republicans swear by, and Democrats are trying to support disaffected workers while they adjust to economic change.
While Trump can’t stop the changing market, how much his actions will slow efforts to fight climate change is as of yet unclear. And this is where one must remember that there is more than market forces involved, but that climate change will affect human lives in the most base way. This is where we see that Trump might hurt the working class far worse than in their job prospects.
Everything Trump is doing to advance his denialist agenda is making climate change that much more likely, including rising sea levels, unprecedented extreme weather, and worldwide agricultural disruption. And how many more Hurricane Katrina’s (or Maria’s) will it take to demonstrate that, when disaster strikes, the poor always suffer most?