This week, with a single stroke of a pen, President Trump rolled back eight years of Obama-era rules and directives designed to combat climate change. While Mr. Trump has yet to nix American participation in the 2015 Paris agreement, his administration’s reversal of Obama-era climate rules will make it difficult for the U.S. to meet its emission-reduction targets. The recent move will promote aggressive exploitation of America’s vast energy resources, bolstered by the shale revolution, without having to consider climate change and environmental impact. Flanked by coal miners, he promises that the rolling back of restrictions will ‘end the theft of American prosperity’ and bring back all the coal and energy jobs lost over the past four decades.

Except it won’t. American coal production has actually increased since the 1970s, and even though it has dipped recently since the promotion of clean energy, it remains above a billion tons a year, up from 600 million tons in 1970. All of this has come from the benefits of automation and a change in mining techniques, shedding labour intensive jobs in favour of tireless machines. The jobs Trump touts will come back to coal country don’t exist anymore, says Caterpillar, a heavy machinery producer developing fully automated coal mining trucks. Coal country voted heavily for Trump, swayed by snake oil sales techniques, and they will be disappointed. The good old days are never coming back, but Trump is coasting on the pretence that they will. Ironically, Trump seems to be ignoring the real job growth story that is happening in the renewables sector. Interestingly in the state of Texas, ground zero of the Oil industry in the US, jobs in renewables grew by 34 percent last year, giving the state the third largest number of solar jobs in the nation. California is the top solar employer, with more than 100,000 jobs, followed by Massachusetts, which has more than 14,500, according to data from the Solar Foundation. These numbers are hard to ignore, if Trump is actually looking for votes again in the next 4 years.

Trump knows this. He must. But though his overtures are publicly to blue collar, working class Americans, the measures are actually designed to benefit corporate players, millionaires and billionaires that Trump identifies with like Carl Icahn. Gutting the EPA’s power – in the first two weeks of Trump moving into the White House, the section on climate change on the EPA’s website disappeared – and now removing the regulations designed to minimise climate change impact frees what much of the energy industry sees as burdens. Essentially, it is to regress the energy industry back to the rapacious, free wheeling days of the Wild West, an unregulated era that helped create dynasties such as the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.

Throughout a recent important industry conference known as CERAWeek by IHS Markit, energy ministers, CEOs and other top executives showed that the industry is running ahead of policymakers on climate change, no longer treating it as an inconvenient theory, but rather as a hard reality to which it must adapt and change. Khalid al-Falih, the Saudi Arabian energy minister, called on his colleagues to find ways to “minimize the carbon footprint of fossil fuels.” Exxon Mobil chief executive Darren Woods said energy development can only move forward by protecting the environment and climate. Ben van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, said the industry needed to produce more energy with fewer carbon emissions. Supermajors have begun to strategically invest in the direction of cleaner fuels such as natural gas and renewables, and even if Trump’s machete to climate change benefits them in the short term – opening up drilling in the Arctic, for example – they know this is a momentary dip. Even Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, knows that renewables are the future. While the US regresses, China and Russia are moving ahead, plotting to assume leadership of the clean energy movement. 

General Electric Co. CEO Jeffrey Immelt recently defended efforts to reduce emissions and fight climate change, after President Donald Trump reversed rules that pushed U.S. utilities to use cleaner-burning fuels. Mr. Immelt said in a blog post that ‘climate change is real and the science is well accepted.’ Mr. Immelt mentioned the administration’s move and said climate change “should be addressed on a global basis through multinational agreements,” such as the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Rather oddly and in direct contradiction to the Trump administration, the Chinese government has come under a lot of pressure from its own population after years of ignoring climate protection. The government there is now actually supportive of the scientific consensus about climate change. Chinese state media has called President Trump “selfish” over his plan to abolish environmental regulations enacted by the Obama administration. The Global Times, a state-run tabloid argues that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world with the US in second but “China will remain the world’s biggest developing country for a long time. How can it be expected to sacrifice its own development space for those developed western powerhouses?” Interesting.

Trump’s myopia isn’t accidental or obtuse; his ability to cause regression is limited by his tenure, and meant to benefit and profit those closest to him during his short time in the White House. With scientists recently declaring the CO2 levels have reached the ‘point of no return’ globally, the world is at crossroads to deal with the looming climate crisis. From being a leader in climate protection, the US is now an administration of climate change deniers. And so it is now up to conscience of the American private sector to mitigate the worse excesses that Trump’s new policies will unleash or wait for another 4 years.

Easwaran Kanason

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