The Trump & Russian chaos — no matter how extensive it is and where it goes — is a tiny preview of the massive disruption we have coming as the global carbon bubble pops.
As much as we hope for and need the global pollution industry to collapse (Earth’s wonderful climate will turn into a human oven if it doesn’t), the quick collapse of the oil, gas, and coal industries will have disruptive and far-reaching effects.
The swing state of Ohio had a hand in Trump getting elected president in 2016, and part of that was its deep coal history and how important that topic is to many voters there. The US coal industry is collapsing not just because of the rise of renewable energy sources like solar and wind, but also because of the growth of natural gas production. Automation has put many more coal workers out of business as well. Despite the intricacies of this unstoppable trend, the topic of coal jobs was exploited by Trump and his team to help get elected. Trump will not save many coal jobs and certainly won’t bring any back, but that promise in the midst of the collapse of coal was one of many little keys to Trump’s win.
While Trump’s administration can’t really do much to change the coal industry’s fate, it comes as no joy to read and write about his admin’s efforts to let coal companies pollute more, cause more cancer and premature death, and fight the growth of much-needed renewables.
The bigger player in the 2016 US election was the oil & gas industry. Not only did US oil & gas industries plow millions of dollars into Republican campaigns, including Trump’s, but unfriendly petro state Russia did much on its own via massive fake news campaigns, social media manipulation, and anti-democratic hacking. Russia’s interference in favor of Trump was confirmed by the CIA, FBI, and other US national security agencies. 17 US national security agencies signed onto that conclusion due to the overwhelming evidence.
But hey, Russian leaders were primarily just trying to protect a tremendously threatened oil & gas economy. Russia knew that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats would be much more pro-renewables, pro-electric vehicles, pro-climate action, pro-Russian sanctions (primarily for other reasons), and anti-pollution government leaders. So Russia put its rather big and persuasive thumb on the scale.
We are concerned about the influence of a foreign power like this in our own democratic process, but let’s be frank, the US oil, gas, and coal industries are not looking out for American citizens either. They are trying to grow their own profits and long-term viability. They disrupt our democratic process as much or more than Russia does. They mislead, misinform, and essentially engage in treason as well — but they are permitted to and we just accept that as our political reality today. The results are perhaps no less harmful, and the stakes just keep rising.
These pollution industries are under tremendous threats. More and more people are demanding that we respond to the climate crisis with swift climate action in order to protect humanity’s chances of survival. Solar and wind power have quickly slid in below the price of coal and natural gas power. People are sick of having relatives and friends dying of cancer and suffer from other horrible health problems as a result of pollution. The future is not on the pollution industry’s side, but the pollution industry is going to do all it can to delay that future.
But here’s the thing: There are
billions and billions trillions and trillions of dollars invested in the theoretical future extraction, sale, and burning of fossil fuels. If we burn those fuels, humanity is screwed. If we don’t burn them, a lot of rich people are going to lose a lot of money (or theoretical money). Billionaires and millionaires who care more about their bank accounts than the future of society will fight back — are fighting back. Entire nations will suffer if when the carbon bubble pops. Leaders in the UAE, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and elsewhere who may understand they need to change, will still struggle to handle the transition if it occurs quickly (as it must).
Some of those people will act as traitors to society, to humanity, to life on Earth. Some of them will try to disrupt elections, smear cleantech-loving politicians, weaken democracies and democratic values. Some of these people will actually resort to murder (or essentially the same thing via wars and poorly regulated pollution industries) in order to make an extra buck or two.
If we ignore the role this financial threat played in Russia’s efforts, oil & gas companies’ efforts, coal companies’ efforts, and the Republican Party’s efforts in 2016 (and 2017), we ignore the deep underlying threat that is causing this disruption to our society.
If we ignore the fact that the popping carbon bubble will cause much more disruption — extending into economic disruption, political disruption, and national security disruption — then we ignore the challenge of dealing with this unprecedented societal transition.
What’s the solution? I’m not so sure. A better informed and more engaged society is surely important. (Share our stories! Take action! Share your cleantech love and your love of democracy!) An attempted movement toward fact-based discussions that don’t turn into food fights seems worthwhile. Compassion for the people who will lose when the carbon bubble pops seems hard to muster but valuable and empathetic.
But let’s be frank — the carbon bubble has to pop, and when it does, we will see much more economic, political, and democratic disruption. We should try to prepare ourselves for this. We should try to prepare our friends and neighbors for this. And we should, of course, try to prepare our economies for this.
Be a leader — as well as a thoughtful follower. The future is being created right now. What kind of future do we want to create internally (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) as well as externally (in the physical world, institutional world, and economic world)? I think the chaos created by the Trump + Russia drama is a good taster for what we need to prepare for in the coming years. Let’s use it as a powerful, positive lesson.
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