Oil Change International

Exposing the true costs of fossil fuels

As Trump Drills the Swamp for Oil; Clean Tech Gathers A Pace

C: Gage Skidmore

C: Gage Skidmore

In the post-truth reality of a post-Trump election victory, one thing is blindingly obvious: Rather than draining the swamp as he repeatedly promised, Trump is going to fill it will his climate-denying cronies, many of whom are very rich privileged, predominantly white men, who are either intricate to the oil industry or have links to Big Oil.

He doesn’t want to drain swamp, but drill it for oil. However, by prolonging the dying days of the fossil fuel industry, and rewarding all his fossil fuel cronies, he might well miss out on the fast growing clean tech revolution.

Indeed for a businessman who is meant to be so smart, on climate change Trump’s blinkered view will backfire badly. Climate change is his business blind-spot.

There is no doubt that the oil industry is back in favour in Washington in ways that the Texan oil boys could only have dreamed even a couple of months ago. And the reality is that its lobbyists and chief executives are going to be even more powerful under Trump than even they were under George W Bush.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump “is rigging the Cabinet top to bottom with allies of the oil industry.”

As the Washington Post notes: “After eight years of being banished and sometimes vilified by the Obama administration, the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump’s policy agenda and staff his administration.”

The paper adds that the industry’s “breathtaking power grab during the first month of Trump’s transition” has “alarmed environmentalists.”

CNN also asks whether Trump’s multimillionaire and billionaire appointees are “creatures of the swamp Trump was supposed to drain?”

Rightly there has been huge amount of outrage at the appointments of soon to be ex-Exxon, Rex Tillerson, as Secretary of State; former Texas governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator and Rep. Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary. But behind the scenes we have Trump’s friends, who include Harold Hamm, billionaire fracker and Carl Icahn, a billionaire oil refiner.

The oilmen that Trump surrounds himself with still believe in an outdated view that fossil fuels are central to American power and wealth, rather than continued fossil fuel investment risking that wealth and power.

Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant who served as a climate change adviser in the Clinton White House, tells the Washington Post: “Trump seems to view fossil fuels as at the center of U.S. economic power at home and abroad, providing cheap energy for the dream of increased domestic manufacturing and also lucrative export markets for U.S. oil, natural gas and coal,”

Bledsoe added. “Overseas, he appears stuck in a ’70s-era world view of oil and gas power plays, where flows of energy are the key to global geo­politics.”

This flawed perspective is also put forward by the fossil fuel funded think tanks, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose climate denier employee Myrol Ebell is heading Trump’s transition team.

The CEI’s “Agenda for Trump” is a fossil fuel lobbyists’ ideal Christmas stocking filler shopping list, which includes ending “U.S. Participation in the Paris Climate Agreement and Defund the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and U.N. Green Climate Fund”; Overturning the “Clean Power Plan” and requiring the “EPA to Meet its Statutory Deadlines before Pursuing Discretionary Objectives.”

The belligerent, out-dated and misconstrued list is flawed for so many reasons and it sums up Trump’s dilemma.

Trump and his cronies may think they can ignore climate change, but they can’t.

More and more financial analysts and bankers have been arguing for years how economically stupid this philosophy is. They have warned of stranded assets and “carbon bubbles”; in essence that the majority of remaining fossil fuel reserves cannot be burnt if we are to keep climate change below two degrees.

As Alex Steffen noted in a great article “Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere” published yesterday: “Scores of experts warn that the Carbon Bubble is one of the biggest threats to the global economy. The way to increase the resilience of global markets, they say, is to act on climate, but to do so with bold-yet-predictable pacing.”

Trump like so many people is “cognitively unprepared to see the Bubble in front of us. That we are so blind to these risks is a tragedy.”

Instead of denying the existence of climate change, Trump, ever the businessman, should think how much money Corporate American could make out of it.

Earlier this week, he held a tech meeting with the likes of Apple, Facebook, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Amazon, and Tesla. Trump said: “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There’s nobody like you in the world. There’s nobody like the people in this room.” He added: “We’re going to be there for you, and you’ll call my people, you’ll call me. It doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.”

If Trump really was “there” for clean tech community, his first stance would be to listen to the climate scientists about how bad the problem really is and then the clean tech community itself about how to help fix it.

Earlier this year, the world passed a point of no return by adding more capacity for clean energy each year than for coal and natural gas combined. Peak fossil-fuel use for electricity may be reached within ten years.

As Bloomberg reported yesterday: “A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting as 2016 comes to an end: Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity.”

It quotes analysist BNEF chairman Michael Liebreich who wrote to clients recently: “Renewables are robustly entering the era of undercutting” fossil fuel prices.

Indeed, analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that rooftop solar capacity in the US, which is becoming cheaper by the day, could increase 100-times over, and each state could meet anywhere between 10% and 45% of its electricity needs with residential solar.

No matter what Trump does, states like California will carry on investing in renewables.

As California Governor Jerry Brown said this week in a direct attack on Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, who now stands to lead the Department of Energy. “Rick, I got some news for you,” Brown said. “California is growing a hell of a lot faster than Texas. And we’ve got more sun than you have oil.”

One such person Trump should also be listening to is Peter Terium, chief executive of Innogy, boss of one of Europe’s biggest clean power companies. Innogy plans to expand wind power operations in the US, and sees no reason to change his company’s investment plans due to the US election. Meanwhile, Mr Trump’s promise to unleash “hundreds of years in clean coal reserves” was unrealistic because “compared with the price of shale gas, coal is just too expensive,” argues Terium.

And his message to Trump is stark: “Even the US president can’t stop” the clean tech market.

 

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