Somebody, anybody, give Trump a fiddle

Climate Voices

Somebody, anybody, give Trump a fiddle

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Trump accepted his party’s nomination by touting his record of fighting for the very things that health and environmental scientists warn against. Doing nothing would have been much better.

By Howard Manly and Rhea Mukerjee


Not even the myth of Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned compares to the sheer audacity of Trump’s willful dismissal of science and data.

Of all the mythology and racial buffoonery on display during the Republican National Convention this week, none were more egregious than President Donald Trump’s twin claims that not only has he relied on science and data to combat the coronavirus but that democratic policies — not climate change — has led to recent power outages in California.

Only in Trump World can you really have it both ways. With about 5.8 million reported cases and nearly 180,000 dead, it is the absolute lack of science and data that has propelled the United States to the highest total on the planet – in part due to Trump’s inability to establish a consistent policy, reluctance to heed his own experts’ advice and preoccupation with winning a second-term. 

Without a tangible record of achievement on the global pandemic or climate change, Trump and his allies relied on racial fear-mongering and lying about the record and campaign promises of his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden. 

Trump and his allies relied on racial fear-mongering and lying about the record and campaign promises of his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden

Biden has “promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale and natural gas,” the president said. “Millions of jobs will be lost, and energy prices will soar. These same policies led to crippling power outages in California just last week. Everybody saw that. Tremendous power outage. Nobody’s seen anything like it, but we saw it last week in California. How can Joe Biden claim to be an ally of the light when his own party can’t even keep the lights on?’

Of course, these words are complete nonsense. Biden has never said he would abolish the oil and gas industry. Even by the head-scratching standards that Trump has established  on climate change over the past four years, the president’s assertions demonstrate his cavalier attitude and dangerous actions that clash with the very things he said he relies on: science and data.  

“Extremism over common sense”

For starters, the California power outages were due to a virtual blizzard of 12,000 lightning strikes across a ten day period that ignited over 600 wildfires, two of which are among the top three in California’s history. More than a million acres (an area five times the size of New York City) were left burned, crippling the state’s power grid.  In some cases those fires over parched wilderness were aided by above-average summer temperatures, like in Death Valley, where last week the thermometer hit 130 F — the hottest temperature recorded in the world since 1913. 

At least one politician wasn’t afraid to blame the real culprit. “If you don’t believe in climate change, come to California,” tweeted California governor Gavin Newsom.

Despite the urgency and the enormous havoc caused by Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, Trump’s (and the Republican Party’s) platform for 2020 is giving climate change scant attention. In fact, at the RNC the Republicans did the opposite and boldly stated that climate change was not a pressing national security issue, but rather “the triumph of extremism over common sense.”

So much for science and data. 

Trump’s platform for 2020 is giving climate change scant attention

Trump’s apathy comes as no surprise. His decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and the replacement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan with his own regulations that minimized emissions restrictions on coal power plants were among his 2016 campaign promises. Earlier this year, Trump went further by relaxing emissions and fuel efficiency standards for automobile producers and, more recently, rolling back mandates limiting methane emissions from oil and gas companies.

“Days after taking office,” Trump boasted before a gathering of 2,000 mostly mask-less supporters on the White House lawn, “…I immediately approved the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, ended the unfair and very costly Paris climate accord and secured, for the first time, American energy independence.”

Fighting a losing battle

What Trump did not say is that those pipelines have been shut down by federal court rulings. In July, a federal judge ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline must be stopped because federal officials failed to carry out a complete analysis of its environmental impacts. Earlier this year, another federal judge dealt a blow to the Keystone XL pipeline and raised similar concerns about the ability of the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct extensive environmental reviews. 

But Trump’s embrace of the oil and gas knows no limits.  Despite dire warnings from scientists detailing the damage already done to the Arctic region as evidenced by the melting polar ice caps and recent devastating wildfires in Siberia, the Trump administration proposed in June to remove wildlife protections that have been in place for more than four decades and open more than two-thirds of the nation’s largest piece of public land in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

Though Trump claims he is fighting for jobs in the energy sector, he clearly is not winning. The fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has rocked the oil and gas industry. Plummeting oil prices have forced it to drastically cut production, lay off workers, and by some estimates reduce investments by about $110 billion, or 25%. A BW Research Partnership survey released Friday showed a 14% decline in U.S. energy-related employment since the start of the pandemic and estimated it could take 16 years to recover the 1.14 million energy jobs lost since February. 

War on coal?

Notably absent from Trump’s acceptance speech was any mention of the coal industry. Trump promised at his 2016 convention that “our miners are going back to work again” and he recently boasted that he ended “the war on coal.”  None of that is true.  

Over the last ten years, more than 300 coal-fired power plants have been retired, and as a result, electricity output from coal slumped to a 42-year low in 2019. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, coal mining jobs are now at a record low. There are 46,000 today. There were close to 90,000 in 2012. Renewable sources like wind and solar now generate more power and represent one of the few areas of growth in the energy sector.

Thus, Nero plays his fiddle, and Trump defends the fossil fuel industry. At the expense of a cleaner, safer planet, Trump is throwing the few remaining lumps of coal on a raging climate change fire. 

Written by

Howard Manly

Howard is a veteran journalist that has spent most of his award winning print and television career focused on the intersection of race, politics, and society. He has written for numerous publications, including Newsweek, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, and was executive editor of the Bay State Banner, one of the leading black newspapers in America. He is a senior fellow at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.