President Donald Trump, in comments made at the recent G-7 summit in France, positioned himself as the protector of United States’ wealth, justifying his refusal to address, much less believe in, climate change on grounds that investing in green energy production would damage the nation’s economic standing.
The U.S. has “tremendous wealth,” Trump told reporters. “I’m not going to lose that wealth. I’m not going to lose it on dreams and windmills, which, frankly, aren’t working that well.”
A reality check is necessary here on a couple of counts.
First, green energy production is not a dream, but a substantial reality in nations around the globe, including China, Denmark, and Germany, and, yes, the U.S.
Second, windmills, actually, seem to be working quite well in the U.S. and around the globe.
Just take Iowa as an example. Trump might think about Iowa as a “Field of Dreams,” but the state is actually a field of renewable energy production reality. While states such as New York and California have passed aspirational legislation requiring their states to achieve 50 percent renewable energy use by 2030, and Hawaii has aggressively legislated that utilities must get 100 percent from their electricity from renewable sources by 2045, Iowa has been a trailblazer in creating this reality, generating 40 percentof its energy from renewable sources.
And, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, “One-third of Iowa’s net electricity generation comes from wind, the second-largest share of any state.”
And Iowa’s continuing infrastructure investments in windmills promise to lift that level of energy production from wind to 40 percent by the end of 2019. In 2008, only four percent of the state’s electricity generation was sourced by wind.
Additionally, farmers are eager to install wind turbines alongside their corn and garner additional income.
Denmark offers another example of the environmental and economic successes of windmills. The nation generates a whopping 42 percent of its electricity from wind, and the wind energy industry is a billion-dollar industry in Denmark and an export success, whether it be through wind farms, turbine production, or off-shore installation.
And other countries, including the U.S.’s top competitors, are keenly aware that the greening of a nation’s economy, represented in Trump’s phrase “dreams and windmills,” does not result in a loss of wealth but is in fact essential to nation’s ability to maintain and grow wealth and remain economically competitive in the global arena.
Germany, a nation that already generates 41% of its energy from renewable sources, recently announced a plan, expected to be adopted by the government, to shut down all 84 of its coal-fired power plants by 2038 in order to meets international commitments to address climate change. This plan came on the heels of a previous decision, made after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, to shut down all its nuclear power plants by 2022 (12 of 19 have already been shut down).
Germany also introduced the world’s first zero-emission passenger train to be powered by hydrogen.
Similarly, China has invested heavily in electric buses, and is positioned as a global leader. They have deployed a fleet of 421,000 electric buses.By comparison, the U.S. has 300 electric buses.
Looking at Iowa and around the globe, it’s clear Trump’s “dreams and windmills” are in fact not dreams at all, but rather a stark reality that must be acknowledged and embraced in any viable plan for a nation’s economic development.
Indeed, in a recent report from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst titled “A Green New Deal for Washington State: Climate Stabilization, Good Jobs, and Just Transition,” Robert Polli, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim highlight the intimate linkages between environmental sustainability and responsibility, infrastructure investment and development, and job creation.
The Green New Deal they propose “will create major opportunities to expand job opportunities and launch new industrial development initiatives throughout the state, while also supporting a healthy overall level of economic growth that supports existing employment levels.” Additionally, they project, “clean energy investments in Washington State that would be sufficient to put the state on a true climate stabilization trajectory will generate about 40,000 jobs per year within the state.”
Government researchers, though, have made the intertwinement of economic and environmental health abundantly clear. The report, released last November, emphasizes,
“With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century – more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.” The report charts the negative impacts of global warming in terms of undermining human health, damaging infrastructure, limiting the availability of clean water, and increasing costs in farming, fisheries, and industrial and energy production, in addition to economic damages and costs related to altering coastlines.
And yet we wait for an infrastructure plan from Trump.
It may be that his denial of climate change is an obstacle to his willingness to invest in infrastructure.
In the past, Trump has praised China for its infrastructure, declaring, “China, you go there now, roads, bridges, schools, you never saw anything like it,” he marveled. “I love China,” he went on. But America? He continued, “We’re dying. We’re dying. … We’ve got nothing.”
To get “something,” though, by many accounts, would mean investing in a green economy, as other nations and even our own states are doing.
Trump once famously pronounced, “The American dream is dead.”
It seems dead primarily—and dangerously—in his political imagination.
And the death of that dream portends an American environmental and economic nightmare.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.
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