In Donald Trump’s speech last week on energy policy, he proposed gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, restoring the Keystone XL pipeline, cutting back regulations on drilling and fracking, bringing back the coal industry and canceling U.S. participation in the COP21 Paris climate accord. These hard-line positions will galvanize voters in coal states and help raise money from the fossil fuel industry, but they’ll be a liability in the general election.
Sometime before November, Trump is going to have an epiphany about climate change.
Confronted by polls showing that 65 percent of Americans agree that global temperatures are rising due to human activity, he’ll soon realize that he can’t afford to maintain his “it’s just the weather” stance. He’s currently polling poorly with two key constituencies who want more action on climate change: women and voters under 30. Women are more likely than men to view climate change as a threat, and 74 percent of adults under 30 prioritize development of renewable energy over increased dependence on fossil fuels.
He’s currently polling poorly with two key constituencies who want more action on climate change: women and voters under 30.
There’s no discernible political risk for him in moving toward the mainstream on carbon and climate; he won't lose any votes to Hillary by doing so, and he could win over independents who are on the fence. On the other hand, opposition to the Paris accord and to caps on power plant emissions, both of which are favored by Americans, appears to be a political gamble.
And last October’s election in Canada — where fossil fuel-promoting Stephen Harper was trounced by climate-friendly Justin Trudeau — is more evidence that Trump would be wise to make a quick pivot.
There are signals from the Trump camp that a softening may be in the works. Kevin Cramer, congressman from North Dakota and Trump’s newly-appointed adviser on energy policy, recently hinted at this eventuality, saying, “[Trump] is a product of political populism, and political populism believes that there needs [to be] some addressing of climate change.”
What form that “some addressing” takes probably won’t be too impactful, given that Cramer is a longtime climate change denier. He’s quoted in 2012 as saying that “the idea that CO2 is somehow causing global warming is on its face fraudulent,” which puts him at odds with, well, just about everyone.
Cramer and Trump will have their work cut out to piece together a winning energy policy while defending some of Trump’s laughable past statements. For starters, there’s the infamous tweet from 2012, later claimed to be a joke, about climate change being a hoax perpetrated by China to destroy American manufacturing.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Around the same time, Trump launched a campaign to block construction of an offshore wind farm near one of his golf courses in Scotland, tweeting that wind turbines were “disgusting” and “bad for people’s health.” The Guardian reported that he wrote a letter to Scotland’s first minister to protest the turbines, declaring, "With the reckless installation of these monsters, you will single-handedly have done more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history."
The subject of wind power came up again while Trump was campaigning last year in Iowa, where wind generates 31 percent of the state’s electricity. The New York Times reported his fatuous observation that it was “amazing, out of nowhere, out of the wind, they make energy.” He went on to add, “Without a subsidy, I don’t think they can make it,” despite wind power now being cheaper than fossil fuel generation in many parts of the country.
His current positioning on climate and energy is a miscalculation he’ll have to try to correct.
When asked about the gravity of climate change by the Washington Post editorial board, Trump once again asserted that he’s “not a big believer in man-made climate change,” and then, in one of his notoriously disorienting non sequiturs, went on to say that nuclear weapons were a bigger risk. “The biggest risk to the world, to me — I know President Obama thought it was climate change — to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That’s — that is climate change.” It's not clear if this comment represents a novel framing of the issue, or if he just wanted to change the subject.
Eventually, Trump will have to convince moderate voters that he has a 21st century energy policy. His current positioning on climate and energy is a miscalculation he’ll have to try to correct. But given his erratic nature, that could mean many things.
Perhaps he’ll offer to top his wall on the Mexican border with solar panels. That would make it a lot more expensive, but Mexico’s paying anyway, right?