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It’s the economy, stupid!

With the stroke of a pen Donald Trump ordered to review a clean power plan and to lift the ban on coal leases. The latest executive order rolls back the progress president Obama has made regarding climate change regulation. The order prioritises fossil fuels over renewables and it will review the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. To rub more salt in the wounds, the executive order was signed at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, while saying that he (Trump) would “end the war on coal”. In Trump’s proposed budget, the EPA would suffer a 31% budget cut, as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programs to find more money for the Pentagon. Of all federal agencies, the EPA would sustain the biggest cut in the 2018 US budget. Though the cuts are a proposal and a starting point for negotiations, it is expected that not much will be changed, as Congress is currently under a Republican majority. When looking at climate change for economic reasons, instead of purely environmental reasons, this “war on coal” would it be actually profitable?

 

Divesting
There are two arguments on divesting from fossil fuels, a moral one and a financial one. The moral argument is that fossil fuels are bad for the planet, they are toxic to anything that lives on this planet and we will run out of them eventually. Obviously this is a very simplistic explanation, but a random Google search on the effects of fossil fuels on the planet is not hard to find. It is the financial aspect I wish to further elaborate on. Financial institutions such as HSBC and Goldman Sachs are actually advising their clients not to invest in fossil fuels anymore. HSBC wrote to its clients that there is an increasing risk that fossil fuel companies will become “economically non-viable.” As a result, the bank advised its clients to divest from fossil fuels because they may be too risky. Goldman Sachs acknowledges the scientific consensus, led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that climate change is “a reality and that human activities are responsible for increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere”. Even Goldman Sachs believes in the notion of climate change, that it is clearly not a hoax, perpetrated by the Chinese. The bank even acknowledges, “that delaying action on climate change will be costly for the natural environment, to humans and to the economy, and that urgent action by governments, businesses, consumers and civil society is necessary to curb greenhouse gas emissions”. Whoa.

Not all fossil fuels are equal
This war on coal Donald Trump talks about? Waging a war on coal is probably a good thing, as coal is actually the worst of all fossil fuels. According to Greenpeace, emissions from burning coal for heat and energy fuel global warming, making coal the biggest threat to our climate. Coal mining is also a source of methane, which is a very potent global warming gas. This war on coal means fighting for clean air and a liveable future. Sounds not too bad. But why is Donald Trump fighting his war? Well, coal is a very important industry in a lot of US states, mainly the states where Trump received the majority of votes. It is also a lucrative industry, but the coal industry is under a lot of pressure. While in 2008 the mined tonnage of coal reached the all-time high of 1.17 billion short tons, it declined to 986 million short tons in 2015. The majority (71%) of this coal is being mined in Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois and Pennsylvania. All these states, with the exception of Illinois, went to Donald Trump. Meaning: less coal mined, equals less jobs, which in turn equals an unhappy electorate.

Climate change is costly
Not only do we know that fossil fuels are running out, they also contribute negatively to a changing climate and a changing climate is expensive. The effects of climate change and global warming are by no means only felt in poor or developing nations, they are also being felt in rich, industrialised nations, such as the USA. A US national assessment of climate change declared that increased global warming is actually affecting every part of the United States. These effects include sea-level rise, flooding, storm surges, heat waves in the Northeast, water shortages and hurricanes in the Southeast and more drought and wildfires in the Southwest. Alaska warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country in the past 60 years, leading to permafrost thaw that is causing highways and airport runways to sink. Sea levels along New York’s coast have already risen more than a foot since 1900. New York’s rate of rise (1.2 inches per decade) is almost twice the observed global rate (0.7 inches per decade) over the same period.

But why?
To conclude, the big question is WHY? The answer to this is simple: short-term monetary gain. Short-term gains mean a bigger chance of re-election in 2020 for Donald Trump; it asserts him as a dealmaker and a successful businessman-turned-president. Targeting the climate is easy; though the effects of climate change are already being felt in the US and worldwide, the narrative could also be turned into a story of unfortunate circumstances. If you question the science behind climate change, it is easy to spin the discourse in the other direction. Facts are just facts, they do not lie, but to believe them is a choice. Climate change is not a revolution, it doesn’t happen overnight, events that trigger climate change have been going on for over a century, why start changing behaviour now?

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Rene Perey

Rene Perey