We have just celebrated what the New York Times has candidly called the “Anniversary of the Apocalypse” – a year of a bruising, divisive, chaotic, idiosyncratic, narcissistic Trump Presidency.
Amongst the fast-moving, Tweet-driven, vortex of chaos that surrounds Trump, sometimes it is difficult to process everything that is happening.
As the Times points out: “Lately, the pace of shocks has picked up, even if our capacity to process them has not.”
But some things are crystal clear in the Trump fog of fake news. We know that Trump has begun an all-out assault on our climate and environmental and health protection, symbolised by the systematic dismantling of the Environmental Protection Agency, and wider environmental and health legislation.
It is also symbolised by Trump’s intention to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement. Earlier this week, Syria become the latest signatory of the Paris climate agreement, leaving the US as a climate Pariah: the only country which now does not support the landmark agreement.
Indeed, on Tuesday, at the UN Climate talks in Bonn, African campaigners called for US negotiators to be barred from the talks. Mithika Mwenda, secretary general of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said: “Trump’s agenda is to dismantle the Paris Agreement. You’re either with the people or with Trump.”
It seems as if each day brings a new low for those who have spent their lives fighting for a cleaner and more sustainable environment. Climate deniers now strut around the White House with impunity. Ignorance rules where common sense and science should prevail.
In any other time, this would not make rational sense. To quote the Times again: “The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board once claimed that our air is ‘too clean for optimum health’”.
But Trump has not had it all his own way. The air may be too clean for the Trump Administration so they want to bring back coal, seen as the dirtiest and most polluting fossil fuel. But so far this has not happened.
As Bloomberg outlines: “It’s been a year since President Donald Trump’s election and his pledges to transform the energy markets haven’t exactly come to pass … In fact, what was true under President Barack Obama is still true today: Coal’s share of the power mix is declining, and wind and solar remain the fastest-growing U.S. sources of electricity.”
It is economics, not politics that are still driving the energy market, “with solar is on its way to becoming the cheapest power source on Earth”, notes Bloomberg.
States like Texas are leading the way in the shift from coal to wind. “Texas has shown that the grid can run on significant amounts of wind,” Joshua Rhodes, research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute tells Bloomberg.
And even the misnomer that is “clean coal”, which Trump has promoted as a solution to climate change, is in trouble.
Back in the second Presidential debate last year, Trump said: “There is a thing called clean coal. Coal will last for a thousand years in this country.”
How wrong he was. The Power Technology website notes that “As gloomy portents go, they don’t come much gloomier for ‘clean coal’ than recent developments at the Kemper County energy facility in Mississippi”, which is “widely regarded to be one of the world’s biggest proofs-of-concept for clean coal” and which “has failed to deliver.”
It continues: “The project’s coal gasification and carbon capture technique has been declared too costly and problematic, so the decision has been made to burn natural gas instead.”
There are other indicators that coal is in trouble, too.
As the GreenTechmedia website points out in an article from yesterday, the future of coal is “very limited”. For example, to give one example, back in 2000, 90 per cent of the electricity generated by utility American Electric Power (AEP) was from coal. By 2005, it was 70 per cent. Now it is 47 per cent, with gas growing from 19 percent to 27 percent and renewables from 4 percent in 2005 to 13 percent today.
Renewable energy is now slated to make up the vast majority of AEP’s planned generation additions over the next decade. Speaking yesterday at Greentech Media’s inaugural Power & Renewables Summit in Austin, Texas, Charles Patton from AEP, said “We don’t even have gas on the horizon right now; it’s all wind and solar.”
And the battle over coal is also a battle of the billionaires, between Trump who idolises it and Michael Bloomberg, who detests it. The latter announced earlier today at the UN climate talks this he is pledging an extra $50 million to fight for the phase out of coal internationally to add to the tens of millions he has already spent in the US against coal.
“Coal is the single biggest polluter,” Bloomberg told the Guardian. “If you could just replace coal with any other fuel, you would make an enormous difference in the outlook for climate change.”
Despite Michael Bloomberg’s best efforts, and the market economics working against it, coal could still make a small come back, though, especially if Trump rigs the rules of the game in favour of coal by re-writing US domestic power rules and slashing solar tariffs.