The direction and results are obvious.
Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all from Donald Trump, he sinks to a new low that leaves you speechless and wondering: Is he crazy, is he evil, is he maniacally committed to unwinding every good thing Barack Obama did, or is he just plain stupid?
I mean, what president would try to weaken emission standards so American-made cars could pollute more, so our kids could breathe dirtier air in the age of climate change, when clean energy systems are becoming the next great global industry and China is focused on dominating it?
Seriously, who does that?
But that’s the initiative Trump has embarked upon of late — an industrial policy to revive all the dirty industries of the past and to undermine the clean industries of the future.
It is a policy initiative that is not only perverse on its face, but that utterly fails to connect so many dots that are right now harming our national security, economy, weather and competition with China.
Think of the dots Trump refuses to connect:
Dot No. 1: Get the term “global warming” out of your head. What’s actually happening is better described as “global weirding.” The warming of the atmosphere makes the weather weird. First, the hots get hotter. This then leads to greater evaporation, which means there’s more water vapor in clouds for precipitation. So the wets get wetter and the floods get wider. But the droughts in dry areas also get drier.
Some of the colds can even get colder, as when a weakened polar vortex, which normally keeps cold air trapped in the Arctic, allows more frigid polar air to push southward into the U.S. At the same time, the hurricanes that are fueled by warmer ocean temperatures get more violent.
That’s why you’re seeing weird weather extremes in all directions. So, The Washington Post reported that in Montana: “On March 3, the low temperature tanked to a bone-chilling minus-32 in Great Falls. Combined with a high of minus-8, the day finished a whopping 50 degrees below normal.” At the time, the city was in its longest stretch below freezing on record.
But then The Post reported that on May 11 in a town “near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia, the temperature surged to 84 degrees Fahrenheit” — in May! Near the Arctic! And this happened at the same time that “the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eclipsed 415 parts per million for the first time in human history.”
Now let’s go to Dot No. 2: On May 30, the National Weather Service declared that in the continental U.S. “there’s never been a wetter 12 months than the period that recently ended” — since it began keeping records 124 years ago, CNN reported. But this global weirding not only devastated Midwestern farmers, requiring huge insurance payouts, it also hammered the U.S. military.
The Air Force had to request $4.9 billion to repair just two weather-ravaged bases. As NPR reported, “about one-third of Offutt Air Force Base, in eastern Nebraska, was underwater earlier this month as flooding hit large swaths of the Midwest. And Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle was hit hard by Hurricane Michael in October.”
The then-Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson, declared “that 61 projects — consisting largely of operations and maintenance — at air bases in 18 states would not happen if the supplemental disaster funding does not come through.”
Dot No. 3: So on June 6, Trump signed a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill, boasting: “Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers.”
Dot No. 4: THE VERY SAME DAY, this newspaper reported, “The world’s largest automakers warned President Trump on Thursday that one of his most sweeping deregulatory efforts — his plan to weaken tailpipe pollution standards — threatens to cut their profits and produce ‘untenable’ instability in a crucial manufacturing sector.
“In a letter signed by 17 companies including Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Volvo, the automakers asked Mr. Trump to go back to the negotiating table on the planned rollback of one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies to fight climate change.”
The story explained that Trump’s new rule “would all but eliminate the Obama-era auto pollution regulations, essentially freezing mileage standards at about 37 miles per gallon for cars, down from a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.” And because California and 13 other states are committed to fulfilling Obama’s or other higher standards, and will go to court to make sure they can, it will split the U.S. auto market into two — a huge problem for the car companies.
Personally, I have no sympathy for the automakers. They brought this on themselves. They, and those in Congress who coddle them, have a long history of assisted suicide.
They got the G.O.P. to more or less freeze the 1980s mileage improvement standards that grew out of the 1970s oil crisis, claiming it would be too expensive for them to keep improving. And what did we get? More pollution in America and therefore more childhood asthma and other health costs, and a bankrupt auto industry that had to be bailed out in 2008 in part because the Japanese out-innovated it in the 1980s and 1990s by holding to higher mileage standards and creating more fuel-efficient fleets.
And now these same foolish and selfish Detroit auto executives, in combination with Trump’s coal-lobby-led Environmental Protection Agency, want to rerun the same play. The companies just wanted Trump to not get as crazy in rolling back standards as he did.
As any industrial designer will tell you, smart, steadily rising environmental standards spur innovation and inspire companies to race to the top and become global market leaders. Obama’s emission standards spurred the U.S. auto industry to catch up, and now Trump wants the companies to slow down their innovation and pollute more, in order to drive up their short-term profits. It’s like burning your furniture to heat your house.
Alas, when you actually connect all of the dots they draw a line pointing straight backward:
Trump is trying to lower auto emission/mileage standards that were making our car companies more competitive against efficient Chinese and Japanese automakers — and making our air cleaner — while Trump is signing multibillion-dollar bailouts for farmers and Air Force bases ravaged by extreme weather that has been amplified by climate change that is amplified by carbon pollution, while Trump is having his bureaucrats hide evidence of climate change and while Trump is forcing Americans to pay billions in tariffs on Chinese imports to protect against, among other things, future competition from Chinese electric vehicles that have zero emissions and zero oil consumption.
This is not strategic. This is not winning. This is not patriotic. It’s just foolish, destructive and cynical.
Accurate predictions of Earth’s warming require computers that are too expensive for one country or institution.
The root of the problem is one of the most basic assumptions of the computer simulations, the possibility of dividing up the atmosphere and oceans into a “grid” of small pieces. Computers then calculate how the pieces interact with one another in small time increments. While doing so, information that is smaller than the size of the pieces — so-called “sub-grid” information about clouds, ocean eddies and the capacity of soil to retain water — must be approximated.
According to Dr. Palmer, this method of calculation may be overly simplistic and suffers from severe shortcomings. The formula used to calculate changes of the atmosphere and oceans — the Navier-Stokes equation — has what physicists call “scale symmetry,” meaning it works the same on all distances. However, as Dr. Palmer points out, this symmetry is violated when calculations approximate the sub-grid information. The consequences for climate predictions are serious: We underestimate the durability of extreme weather situations and, at the same time, overestimate how likely our predictions are to be correct.
The Navier-Stokes equation, central to predicting Earth’s climate, is famously difficult to solve and has caused mathematicians and physicists headaches for 200 years. To this day, turbulences and eddies have remained challenging to understand. The Clay Mathematics Institute has named the Navier-Stokes equation one of its millennium problems and will award progress toward solving it with a $1 million prize.
.. There are two possible ways to arrive at better climate predictions. The best way would be to use a higher resolution for the models: to divide up the land and oceans into much smaller pieces. But doing this with existing computing facilities would take too long to be of any use.
Immigration quotas should be based on how much the host country has ruined other countries.
There is a lot of debate these days about whether the United States owes its African-American citizens reparations for slavery. It does. But there is a far bigger bill that the United States and Europe have run up: what they owe to other countries
- for their colonial adventures,
- for the wars they imposed on them,
- for the inequality they have built into the world order,
- for the excess carbon they have dumped into the atmosphere.
The creditor countries aren’t seriously suggesting that the West send sacks of gold bullion every year to India or Nigeria. Their people are asking for fairness:
- for the borders of the rich countries to be opened to goods and people, to Indian textiles as well as Nigerian doctors.
- In seeking to move, they are asking for immigration as reparations.
Today, a quarter of a billion people are migrants. They are moving because the rich countries have stolen the future of the poor countries. Whether it is Iraqis and Syrians fleeing the effects of illegal American wars, or Africans seeking to work for their former European colonial masters, or Guatemalans and Hondurans trying to get into the country that peddles them guns and buys their drugs: They are coming here because we were there.
Before you ask them to respect our borders, ask yourself: Has the West ever respected anyone’s borders?
A vast majority of migrants move from a poor to a less poor country, not a rich one. Immigration quotas should be based on how much the host country has ruined other countries. Britain should have quotas for Indians and Nigerians; France for Malians and Tunisians; Belgium for very large numbers of Congolese.
And when they come, they should be allowed to bring their families and stay — unlike the “guest workers” who were enticed to build up the postwar labor force of the colonizers and then asked to leave when their masters were done exploiting them.
The Dominican Republic, where the United States propped up the dictator Rafael Trujillo for three decades, should be high on the American preference list. So should Iraq, upon which we imposed a war that resulted in 600,000 deaths. Justice now demands that we let in 600,000 Iraqis: for each death we caused there, someone should get a chance at a new life here.
Some 12 million Africans were enslaved and carried across the Atlantic by European powers. Should not 12 million people from Africa be allowed to live in the countries enriched by the toil of their ancestors? Both will be better off: the African still suffering from what slavery has done to his country, and the host country that will again benefit from African labor, but this time without enormous pain and for a fair wage.
Just as there is a carbon tax on polluting industries, there should be a “migration tax” on the nations who got rich while emitting greenhouse gases. The United States is responsible for one-third of the excess carbon in the atmosphere; Europe, another one-quarter. A hundred million refugees fleeing hurricanes and droughts will have to be resettled by the end of the century. The United States should take a third, and Europe another quarter.
A huge bill would come to the West, but it is one it should look forward to paying. Without immigration, America’s economic growth would have been 15 percent lower from 1990 to 2014; Britain’s would have been a full 20 percent lower. Immigrants are 14 percent of the American population, but
States point to the economic advantages of cleaning up their electric grids.
DENVER — The morning two years ago that Jared Polis announced his run for governor of Colorado, he went to a coffee roaster operating on solar power and promised more renewable energy for the state. Campaigning on that alongside education and health care reform, Mr. Polis, a Democrat, blew away his Republican opponent last fall by 11 percentage points.
This week, the clean-energy voters who helped put him into office will get their first reward. Mr. Polis is expected to sign a remarkable package of 13 environmental and energy bills that will propel Colorado to the top rank of states tackling the climate crisis.
Colorado stands out, but it does not stand alone. A wave of fresh ambition to confront climate change is sweeping through state governments as lawmakers point to the benefits: green jobs, lower electric rates and new tax revenues.
Six states have adopted policies that will effectively require the elimination of carbon dioxide emissions from their electric grids by midcentury, most of them in the past year. So many other states are considering it that the number could double in the next year or two.
This is happening mostly in states like Colorado where Democrats have taken full control of state government, and I think the trend holds important lessons for the Democratic Party. At the national level, the Democrats need to start running hard on climate and energy, instead of paying the issue lip service.
Signs abound that the American public is ready for a serious discussion about our energy options. But how to discuss the subject? For that we should look not just to states like Colorado but, interestingly enough, also to a state under complete Republican control: South Carolina.
This received little national attention, but the South Carolina legislature just adopted a bold policy meant to open the state to more solar power. Utilities like Duke Energy may yet torpedo the plan, but if they are beaten back, South Carolina in a few years could match North Carolina in getting 5 percent of its electrical power from the sun, compared with less than 1 percent last year.
The solar bill is part of the ongoing recuperation in South Carolina from an attempt to build a new nuclear power plant. That turned into a debacle, with repeated cost overruns and construction problems finally leading to the cancellation of the plant. South Carolinians will be paying for their $9 billion hole in the ground for many years to come.
In the aftermath of that mess, the solar industry swooped in and offered to put a lot of clean power onto the grid. The industry was careful with words, though. Tyler Norris, who helped craft the bill on behalf of South Carolina’s solar industry association, told me that the focus was on the direct benefits to the people of the state.
“I don’t know that the terms ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ were ever uttered in the entire year and a half of advocacy and debate around this,” Mr. Norris said.
The final vote in the South Carolina Senate was 46-0, and in the House, 103-0. You read that right.
The champion of the Energy Freedom Act, a Republican state senator named Tom Davis, explained his thinking last week, writing in an op-ed that the bill was a step toward “real competition that will provide downward pressure on the cost of producing energy.”
He is right: We are entering an era when clean electricity is going to be the cheapest electricity. That means monopolies like Duke Energy are about to get stuck with a bunch of dirty, coal-burning power plants that are becoming uneconomical.
Some utilities, it must be said, are turning into clean-energy champions. The leading one in the country is Xcel Energy, which happens to supply much of urban Colorado with power and operates in seven other states. The company has been ramping up its clean-energy commitments for years; after Mr. Polis was elected but before he took office, it committed to going 100 percent clean by 2050.
Mr. Polis, working with a legislature controlled by Democrats, wrote into law a mandatory 80 percent reduction in emissions for Xcel by 2030, along with a broader target of reducing emissions from the entire Colorado economy 90 percent by 2050. The legislative package includes a big push for electric cars, as well as measures to ensure fair treatment for workers laid off from dirty power plants.
“Colorado prides itself on being an innovative, forward-looking state,” Mr. Polis told me. “We want to lead as a state to make sure Colorado is well positioned for the renewable-energy future.”
The clean-energy picture has evolved so rapidly in the past few years that I think the situation calls for a strategic shift on the part of the Democrats. Wagging fingers in the Republicans’ faces about their climate denial has not worked. Demanding that they pass punitive fuel taxes has not worked. What seems to be working is to emphasize the local and statewide benefits of clean energy.
Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, likes wind energy because it is good for the farmers who get paid to host turbines. School boards in Kansas and Oklahoma love it because the taxes on wind parks are filling their coffers. In the South, people are figuring out that solar panels can put out cheap power just about the time they are cranking up their air-conditioners.
As the economic case for renewables grows more compelling, the issue becomes how much faster we can go in cleaning up the grid. The tactical goal for Democrats is not to get Republicans to admit they have been wrong about climate science; the only thing that matters is to pass measures to speed the energy transition.
Understanding all this, Democrats can still run hard on climate change in party primaries. But in general elections and upon taking office, they need to make the subtle shift from talking about the climate crisis to talking about the benefits of clean energy — something that Mr. Polis, for one, is skilled at doing.
The polls have told us, over and over, that right below the surface in this country lurks a powerful consensus to go all out on the energy transition. The falling costs offer a fresh opportunity to talk about competition and freedom of choice in the market for electricity, a language that many Republicans understand.
That unanimous measure in South Carolina tells you that for the right policies advocated in the right language, the votes are there.