After recent months, when Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and unprecedented wildfires torched the West from British Columbia to California, anyone who imagines that climate change has not been happening is a fool. But such “fossil fools,” as I call them, remain extremely influential in the United States—and have captured control of the federal government.
Their bombastic leader, Fool-in-Chief Donald Trump, is the greatest fool of all due to the tremendous impact he can and will have on Earth by withdrawing our nation from the Paris climate accords, to which all but a few nations subscribe. He is aided and abetted in his foolhardy schemes by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney, among others. As The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted, these “know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the US government.”
This ship of fools shares the audacious goal of reestablishing US “energy dominance,” by which they mean harnessing the vast carbonaceous fossil-fuel reserves with which our nation was blessed—or, to increasingly many observers, accursed. Renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and water power don’t interest them, probably because these diffuse, decentralized forms of energy cannot be exported easily and will thus add little to corporate profits—the real, unspoken goal.
Closer to home, State Senator Doug Ericksen served as a temporary, part-time ensign on this ship, hoping for a promotion to a full-time captain’s job. But he returned to Washington state disappointed after a four-month tour of duty on the EPA “beachhead team.” He appeared to have all the required qualifications after accepting dozens of free meals and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from fossil-fuel lobbyists while inviting climate-change deniers to harangue the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee he chairs.
These fossil fools speciously argue that many well-paid jobs would result from reviving fossil-fuel industries, most recently coal jobs in Appalachia. This is public-relations nonsense lacking any solid evidence. As University of California, Berkeley, Professor of Energy Daniel Kammen and colleagues have shown, the job-creation potential of energy conservation and renewable energy far exceeds that of fossil-fuel industries. In this category, coal mining comes in dead last.
The foolish EPA administrator Pruitt boasts that 50,000 coal jobs have been created since the beginning of 2017, but the actual number is at most 2,000. There are only about 50,000 coal-mining jobs in the entire country today according to Federal Reserve Board statistics, down from twice that 25 years ago, due largely to mechanization. And coal mining is a dying industry on life support, with three of the four major US firms in bankruptcy court. Like his blindered boss, Pruitt is lying.
Meanwhile, rising economic powers such as China and India—as well as established ones such as Germany—are taking up the renewable-energy challenge as the United States drops back. This is where the well-paid energy jobs of the future will occur, not in Appalachian or Wyoming coal fields. For example, a solar-power firm in which I am invested, 247 Solar, Inc., has already established partnerships in China, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. Serious discussions are under way with groups in Canada, Germany, and India, but none so far in the United States. The foolish Trump regime is probably part of the reason.
When an obscure Republican political hack with no scientific experience is reviewing EPA grant proposals and summarily rejecting those that mention “the double-C word” climate change, something stinks in the nation’s capital. Similar political censorship has been reported at the Department of Energy. This is science denial at its ugliest. Though it may aid fossil-fuel industries in the short run, it will cause long-term harm for the US economy and ultimately for the fate of the planet.
To science historians, this denial of established climate science is reminiscent of what occurred in Germany during Hitler’s reign. Previously the envy of the world in such disciplines as chemistry and physics, this once-proud nation fell to its knees scientifically during this regime and ended in ruins a decade later. Nazi officials and sympathizers denied science that was widely accepted elsewhere. They reviled the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics as “Jewish physics” but pursued with vengeance experiments on Jews and other untermenschen (sub-humans). In 1945, Germany awoke in ashes.
The primary lesson here is that science and politics usually make terrible bedfellows. Embracing politically motivated forms of science (if we can call them that), as do the deniers of climate change with their irrational, unproved ideas, will inevitably lead to no good—and can easily end in catastrophe. Although it may benefit the few for a while, for example fossil-fuel industries and workers, it will harm the many over the long run. This is indeed a fool’s errand.
We are witnessing an extreme example of what political economists and sociologists have long known: that prior economic commitments can dramatically alter one’s grip on reality. Those who profit mightily from fossil-fuel investments, for example Charles and David Koch, will be naturally blind to the impact that they are having on the earth’s climate and deny it despite overwhelming evidence. In this way they attempt to rationalize and justify what to others is intellectual corruption.
But the US government has been taken over and is being held hostage by these science deniers. There is no better exemplar of this hostile takeover than Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general repeatedly sued the EPA over its attempts to regulate fossil-fuel industries. He had extensive financial and legal support in these efforts from oil-and-gas giant Devon Energy. Since stepping in at this agency steeped in environmental science, he has begun purging climate science and scientists from its web site, boards and staff.
For some reason Pruitt also purged Ericksen as communications director, replacing him with the “obscure political hack” mentioned earlier. Maybe Doug was found wanting in his level of intellectual corruption, or perhaps his communications skills left much to be desired. And he apparently could not land another suitable, lucrative job in the Trump administration. Whatever the case, it seems Ericksen is now back in Washington’s 42nd district, hat in hand, about to seek reelection in 2018.
Similar, if less blatant, purges have been occurring at the Energy and Interior Departments. Presidential budgets for climate science were brutally slashed at these and other agencies involved in this research, thanks in part to OMB Director Mulvaney. Fortunately, Congress has refused to cooperate, especially the Senate.
Will the United States, once the world’s most innovative, high-tech economy, revert to an extractive economy like those of West Virginia and Wyoming—or like that of Trump’s much-admired favorite nation Russia? A glance at these faltering economies reveals that they are hardly the wave of the future.
Will the United States, the world’s most innovative, high-tech economy, revert to an extractive economy like those of West Virginia and Wyoming—or like that of Russia?
This is however where our national “leadership” hopes to take us. If these ignorant fools succeed, the future of our nation and planet will be imperiled. But there is reason to hope. 42nd district voters can do their part and begin turning back this toxic red-state tide by booting Ericksen out of office next year.