Trump pitches fossil fuels in Davos, as report puts climate crisis as world’s No. 1 risk
The World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, opened this week with the 15th edition of its Global Risks Report. The top 2 risks on the list are the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, two matters inextricably bound up with each other. And in struts Donald Trump playing pitchman for fossil fuels and taking swipes at climate activism.
From the executive summary of the report:
For the first time in the history of the Global Risks Perception Survey, environmental concerns dominate the top long-term risks by likelihood among members of the World Economic Forum’s multi-stakeholder community; three of the top five risks by impact are also environmental (see Figure I, The Evolving Risks Landscape 2007–2020). “Failure of climate change mitigation and adaption” is the number one risk by impact and number two by likelihood over the next 10 years, according to our survey. Members of the Global Shapers Community—the Forum’s younger constituents—show even more concern, ranking environmental issues as the top risks in both the short and long terms.
The Forum’s multi-stakeholder network rate “biodiversity loss” as the second most impactful and third most likely risk for the next decade. The current rate of extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years—and it is accelerating. Biodiversity loss has critical implications for humanity, from the collapse of food and health systems to the disruption of entire supply chains.
Said Trump: “We urge our friends in Europe to use America’s vast supply and achieve true energy security. With U.S. companies and researchers leading the way, we are on the threshold of virtually unlimited reserves of energy, including from traditional fuels, LNG [liquefied natural gas], clean coal, next-generation nuclear power, and gas hydrate technologies. […] But to embrace the possibilities of tomorrow, we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune-tellers — and I have them and you have them, and we all have them, and they want to see us do badly, but we don’t let that happen.”
Not quite Trump directly calling the climate crisis a hoax as he has so often in the past, but close enough—especially since his words came after earlier remarks to the gathered leaders by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who called for immediate action.
John Bowman, managing director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Scott Waldman at E&E News, “It’s a sorry day when the world looks to a 17-year-old Greta Thunberg to tell us the truth, while the president flails at science and dismisses the growing public demand for action.”
It’s a sad day when the supposed leader of the free world goes after a young activist, as he has done, because he’s jealous that she merited being named Time’s Person of the Year. Pathetic envy from a guy who has himself been on the cover of Time 29 times, though not always in the most flattering light.
Trump’s Davos speech came on the heels of the White House’s move last month to hack the extension of tax credits for solar and electric vehicles out of the $1.37-trillion spending deal. Congressional leaders had come to agreement on keeping the credits, but reportedly, killing them was key to getting Trump’s signature. Only the production tax credit for wind got a temporary extension. Which is kind of amazing, considering Trump’s bald-faced hatred of and lying about wind turbines.
If anybody was confused about his intent, that should make it clear. In the past, President Jimmy Carter and President Barack Obama both chose an all-of-the-above energy approach, heavy on the renewables. These days, an all-of-the-above approach, especially one that includes promoting fossil fuel expansion while simultaneously undercutting renewables, is a prescription for disaster. But while much of the Trump environmental agenda is marked by private plunder of public resources, the growth of renewable energy capacity nonetheless continued in 2019, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts more growth for 2020 in its latest report.
Currently, the United States has a total electricity-generating capacity of about 1,200 gigawatts. Of that, 100 gigawatts come from wind, 74 gigawatts from solar. The EIA predicts 42 gigawatts of new electric generation capacity will start commercial operation in 2020. Wind will provide the lion’s share of capacity at the new installations, with 44% of that total; solar will comprise 32%, natural gas 22%, and 2% will come from hydro and battery storage.
Prices for renewables have sharply plummeted since the early 2000s, and analysts not only expect that to continue, but also expect that prices for utility-level battery storage will take a similar downturn as the market scales up.
While the news about renewables growth is encouraging despite the axing of tax credits, it must be remembered that while great strides have been made in the past 20 years, only about 4% of U.S. electricity is now generated by non-hydro renewables. Expanding that capacity at the pace required to ameliorate some impacts of the climate crisis and prevent others will clearly require a major acceleration of solar, wind, and geothermal installations. And the drive to electrify transportation means we’ll need to do much more than simply replace the current 1,200 gigawatts of capacity.
Donald Trump stands squarely in the way. Our next president, whoever she or he is, must put dealing with the climate crisis at the top of the list of our nation’s priorities. That requires an industrial plan to transform the economy’s electricity, transportation, and agricultural sectors. It means shuttering the fossil fuel industry, including natural gas. And it means doing all this with a lens on environmental justice, both for the people—disproportionately black and brown—who have suffered most from environmental recklessness and for the workers of the fossil fuel industry. A Green New Deal could achieve all of that.
(Crossposted with DailyKos. Cartoon CC by DonkeyHotey on Flickr.)