Did you catch this gem on CNN.com from April 6? “The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, is switching to solar power to save money. … Communications director Brandon Robinson told CNN affiliate WYMT that the project ‘will help save at least eight to ten thousand dollars, off the energy costs on this building alone.’”
Go figure. The coal mining museum is going solar, for solid economic reasons, and President Donald Trump is reviving coal, with no economic logic at all. This bizarre contrast speaks to a deeper question of leadership and how we judge presidents.
Trump has been dismantling budgets and regulations undergirding U.S. climate and environmental protection policies — in his nutty effort to revive U.S. coal-fired energy — while quietly announcing plans to withhold a promised $32.5 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Population Fund, which supports family planning and maternal health.
Trump made this move without seeking a comprehensive briefing from experts — he controls the world’s greatest collection of climate scientists at NASA, NOAA, the EPA, the Pentagon and the CIA — and without ever asking for an intelligence briefing on how the combination of climate change, environmental degradation, drought and population explosions helped trigger the civil war in Syria, spawn terrorist groups like Boko Haram around Africa’s central Lake Chad (which has lost 90 percent of its water mass since 1963) and become the main force pushing tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe each year, and from Central America up to the U.S.
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I promise you that Trump will spend the rest of his presidency dealing with the disruptions caused by this cocktail of population explosion and climate/environmental degradation — and his generals know it.
Since Trump seems to be pivoting from some of his campaign nonsense, one can only hope he will do the same on these issues. If Trump is looking for a blueprint, he could not do better than to read a smart new book, “Climate of Hope,” by a most unlikely duo: former Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope and billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
When Carl met Mike … It was 2011, Pope went to Bloomberg with a plan for generating bottom-up community activism to help shut down as many coal-fired power plants in America as possible, so another generation of American kids wouldn’t be afflicted with childhood asthma and another generation of coal workers wouldn’t have to make a living breathing coal dust.
Bloomberg put $50 million into the effort, and the rest is — helping to make coal — history, thanks to the Sierra Club mobilizing communities and technology making natural gas (when the methane leakage is controlled) a much cleaner, cheaper base-load power source for utilities, and wind and solar energy so much more cost-effective.
When the Sierra Club and Bloomberg started in 2011, there were 514 coal-fired power plants in America; since then, 254 have announced they will shut down. They expect that fully two-thirds will be phased out by 2022 – no matter what Trump says or does.
Imagine every U.S. city joining those already buying electric self-driving vehicles, thereby scaling a new auto-on-demand industry — while reducing the need for personal cars and the parking places and garages for them — thereby unlocking so much real estate for growth and easing urban housing prices. Imagine that Trump offered to link West Virginia and Washington, D.C. with high-speed rail service.
Imagine … we could actually make America great again, not just prolong a dying coal industry! Now that would be presidential.