SOTU’s glaring omission

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President’s Trump’s State of the Union address on February 5 was a call for bipartisan action. But mostly of the wrong kind. His southern border wall is of course a controversial and expensive proposition, but it was his boast that the USA now exports more energy than any other country in the world that got my attention. Since President Trump mis-remembers, mis-speaks, and exaggerates so frequently, the fact-checkers will be hard at work to verify that claim. 

It may well be true: the quantities of natural gas and tight oil produced by fracking have increased hugely, and while the demand for coal as a fuel for power plants has declined, the export of coal to Asia has picked up the slack, together with exports of liquid natural gas.

Trump missed two little words

Two words that never passed Trump’s lips were ‘climate change’. One might have thought that a review of the state of the union might have dwelled for a moment on the huge wildfires that scorched California last year, and the two devastating hurricanes: Florence and Michael, that caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage during the summer. The Camp fire destroyed the town of Paradise in California; while Hurricane Michael devastated the town of Mexico Beach on the Florida panhandle.

Trump continues to pretend that climate change is fiction and that global warming can be disproved by the first winter snowstorm. Since the previous week had seen record frigid temperatures occurring across Canada and most of the USA, it was of course predictable that Trump would tweet that the best remedy for the sub-zero conditions was a good old dose of global warming.   

It’s an effective ploy.  Many people, around 40 % of the population in the US and Canada, are still unsure if climate change is really caused by human activities like fossil fuel power generation, industrial pollution and transport. Proudly displaying a snowball in the US Senate, as Senator Jim Inhofe once did, or wishing for a bit more global warming like Donald Trump, just adds to the uncertainty about the validity of climate change that many people continue to feel.

Several observers have noted that when there are summer heatwaves and wildfires, many people link these events directly with global warming, and then, six months later, ask how that can really be true when there are ‘polar vortex’ events and temperatures hit record lows.  It all  adds to the uncertainty and doubt about climate change.

The apparent contradiction occurs because many people continue to confuse weather with climate—including (one suspects deliberately) Donald Trump and Jim Inhofe.  Extreme weather: heatwaves and polar vortexes are still just weather.  But weather caused by a destabilized climate. That the planet is warming is a scientific fact.  Ocean heat content—the fundamental metric that shows what is really happening—is rising inexorably. That’s a clear and unambiguous sign of global warming.  The warming planet affects the global climate.  How could it not?  And the changing climate—what we should maybe call the crazy climate, is what produces the heatwaves, droughts, violent storms, floods and, yes, frigid periods of polar vortex weather.

Global warming is driving the climate crazy, and that crazy climate is giving us periods of extreme weather: sometimes insufferably hot and sometimes unbearably cold.

We should not forget that Canadians and Americans only live on the bit on top.  On the underside of the globe—down under, where it’s summer, the Australians are having a nightmare of a time.  They are seeing heatwave after heatwave. Bats are dropping dead from the trees. The Darling river has dried up.  They are hosing down Koala bears to keep them cool.

The claim that the US is now the world’s largest exporter of oil and gas is worth another look. Is this necessarily great news?  Purely from an economic standpoint (setting aside the external costs of the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane that are an inherent part of the fracking, processing, collecting, refining and pipeline transport of these hydrocarbons), does the increased export of these fossil fuels always bring the biggest economic bang for the buck?

The last US employment numbers showed that 2.25 million Americans work in the energy efficiency business. In 2017, energy efficiency added the most new jobs of the entire energy sector in the US. Energy efficiency business employs twice as many workers as all the fossil fuel sectors combined. Its workers outnumber elementary and middle school teachers, and are nearly double those in law enforcement.  That’s just energy efficiency–where studies have clearly shown that investments create more jobs than those in the fossil fuel industries—more than twice as many.

In the same year, over three quarters of a million people worked in the renewable energy industries—where job creation has far outstripped the fossil fuel industry.  Solar and wind energy jobs have grown at rates above 20 percent annually in recent years and are each creating jobs at a rate 12 times faster than that of the rest of the US economy.

So fossil fuels and the oil and gas industries make loads of money for the oil companies, but they don’t create lots of jobs. It’s a fallacy.  Renewable energy and energy efficiency are where the jobs are.  And where the future jobs are. 

The trends are almost certainly the same for Canada. When politicians like Ontario Premier Doug Ford declare that protecting the environment and economic growth are mutually exclusive, he is simply ignorant of the facts. Energy efficiency businesses and renewable energy initiatives directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to constrain global warming and climate change. And maybe make the climate a little less crazy.    


See: Now hiring: The growth of America’s clean energy & sustainability jobs. Available at http://edfclimatecorps.org/sites/edfclimatecorps.org/files/the_growth_of_americas_clean_energy_and_sustainability_jobs.pdf . And also: Renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. Accessed at: http://fortune.com/2017/01/27/solar-wind-renewable-jobs/

See: Energy efficiency jobs in America, at https://www.e2.org/eejobsamerica/faq/

For the Australian heatwave see: Code Red: Australia is so hot bats are falling from the trees, at  https://thinkprogress.org/australia-heat-wave-so-hot-bats-falling-from-trees-9493180bfd35/

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Martin Bush

Martin Bush graduated from the University of Sheffield with a PhD in chemical engineering and fuel technology. He has spent the last 30 years leading natural resources management, renewable energy, and climate change adaptation and mitigation projects in Africa and the Caribbean. He lives in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He can be contacted at climatezone.central@gmail.com. He is the author of a new book: Climate change and renewable energy--How to end the climate crisis. Published by Palgrave-Macmillan in October 2019.

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