After that paranoid, delusional babble in the Koch-sponsored Rose Garden last week, it has been truly impressive and relieving to witness the diversity and depth of support for the Paris Accord, and for strong climate action across the board. As many have observed, Trump has united and energized the global climate movement like never before.
Incredibly, but not surprisingly, we are told that climate science was not a factor in Trump’s decision. While this is obviously dismaying, it’s also quite revealing. For decades, climate policy fights have often boiled down to dueling spreadsheets and powerpoints. Now, in an accidental moment of clarity, Trump has confirmed what an increasingly large section of the climate movement has been saying for a while now: don’t bring a spreadsheet to a knife fight.
These people in Washington now do not want to talk about carbon budgets, stranded assets, the percentage of fracked gas that is leaking, the economic viability of carbon-sucking unicorns, or a million other aspects of climate policy. Which is good, because few of us want to have those debates with them either. Don’t get me wrong, our people power will still be data-driven. We will model transparent, data-driven energy and climate policy, and we will make sure our power builds on that – rather than skipping the facts overall, as is the current fashion.
The question for us – as climate and democracy and justice advocates – is not primarily which policy path leads to how many degrees of warming using what assumptions under whose scenarios. The critical question right now is this: How do we build more political power, and how do we win? Less PowerPoint. More power.
It’s time, in short, to fight. There is no way to solve climate without confronting – and defeating – the fossil fuel industry. We are in a battle with oil, gas, and coal, and we’re going to have to win. There is no way to solve climate without having this battle, and the faster we can win, the faster we can get on with the important work of managing the decline of the industry, while taking care of communities and workers and even investors in the transition.
But wait you say, can’t we just destroy demand for fossil fuels and watch the industry’s power dwindle? Some humility is in order here. Remember that Nick Stern called the climate crisis the ‘greatest market failure ever’. Leaving this to the market seems like a poor idea at this stage of the game, especially as the industry uses its (increasing) political power to distort that market with subsidies and to create the perception that their product is the only viable technology for decades and decades more.
Yes, in fact, demand destruction is an increasingly real factor as renewables and electric vehicles achieve economies of scale globally. But until we win the political battles, until we establish that any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry is in fact climate denial, until we elect leaders who are not bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry, the pace of change will remain much too slow.
There is history here that is important. The oil industry, which knew full well by the 1970s that its product was causing global carbon dioxide to rise, was and in some cases still is the major financial support behind an international effort to discredit climate science, sow debate, and reap confusion and inaction. The Pruitt / Trump / Bannon game plan is clearly more of the same. We’re not facing a few bad actors. We’re seeing the next phase of a decades-long strategy to protect the business model of fossil fuel extraction for profit from the existential threat that the truth about climate science poses.
The conflict is inevitable. But, as the challengers, we can, to some extent, choose the terrain of engagement. Supply-side campaigns that target new, planned fossil fuel infrastructure offer terrain that is very favorable.
This article has excerpted from: ‘For This Climate Fight: Less PowerPoint. More Power’.