Late last week, Trump’s transition team put up a website that lists its top priorities for their administration. For those of us concerned with maintaining a somewhat livable planet, looking at the energy section is like reading a vivid description of your worst nightmare.
Mine all the coal. Drill all the oil. Defund the EPA. Cancel the Paris Agreement. Kill all environmental regulations.
Bringing back drill, baby, drill isn’t enough for the Trump team: they’re looking to bring back Sarah Palin herself as Secretary of Interior.
Let’s face it: the door to national climate action as we know it has been slammed shut. Trump is the only world leader who denies climate change. He has no interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He’s shown little support for clean energy. There’s zero chance he’d approve a carbon tax.
But when you’re trapped in a burning building and the door has been barred, you don’t just sit on the floor and watch the flames: you put out what you can and start looking for the windows.
Our planet is that burning building and it’s time to double down on our role as firefighters.
First, before Trump can set the world ablaze, we need to push the Obama administration to fireproof everything they can. That means employing whatever legal and regulatory measures possible to defend the progress that has been made. It also means saying no to the Dakota Access Pipeline and new fossil fuel projects, not because Trump won’t try and approve them, but because it’s the right thing to do, and because it will open up the possibility of fighting these projects in the courts and buy us some time.
Obama also needs to stop pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership. That toxic trade deal, that both Trump and Clinton opposed, has inside of it a provision that would allow corporations to sue nations and local governments for keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Since we’re going to be relying on states and municipalities to block a lot of projects going forward (more on that later), we can’t allow companies a backdoor to approving them with the support of President Trump.
Second, once Trump takes office, we need to be ready to put out every fire he starts. Over the last eight years, the climate movement has grown immensely. Take 350.org: we didn’t even exist when Obama first took office. Now we work with people in every state and have hundreds of thousands of supporters nationwide (not to mention many more around the world). This movement has a diverse set of skill sets and strategies to bring to bear, from civil disobedience, to lawsuits, to mass marches. We’ll protest every pipeline, march against every mine, and fight every fracking well. We were able to turn out hundreds of thousands of people when Obama was in office, imagine how many more will be willing to protest when Trump gets going.
The American people still love the environment. They overwhelmingly support clean energy. Democrats and Republicans alike want action on climate change. People want clean air to breath and clean water to drink. This election had nothing to do with dismantling our environmental laws (climate change wasn’t even mentioned in the debates) and Trump has zero mandate for a radical assault on the planet. He’s going to face a massive backlash the minute he starts implementing his agenda.
We’ll also fight the fires that Trump lights up in other areas of our democracy. That means standing against his attack on civil liberties. Fighting for women’s rights. Standing against his attacks on people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. Let’s face it: under Trump, some people are closer than others to the flames. If you think it’s a coincidence that the most racist President we’ve seen in the last 20 years is also the worst on the environment, you’re fooling yourself. To paraphrase Van Jones, someone who thinks there are throwaway people is bound to think there are throwaway species, as well. Someone who cares only about himself isn’t going to care about the planet. We’re stronger when we fight together, which means the climate movement will need to challenge racism and white supremacy just as we challenge pollution and the fossil fuel industry.
Third, we need to start looking for the windows. The climate crisis is already underway and we can’t waste four years playing defense. We need to drive action at the state level, pushing California, New York, and others to build out clean energy, shift the markets, and tie up the fossil fuel industry. We need to look to the courts, not only to defend regulations, but to start holding fossil fuel companies and the federal government accountable. The Children’s Trust case and the investigation into ExxonMobil become even more important. We need to challenge private institutions to take action, ramping up the divestment campaign, pushing carbon neutrality, and urging colleges, museums and foundations to become leaders in their own communities. We need to go after the banks, getting them to move billions out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. We need to push companies to green their supply chains and commit to 100% renewable energy. We need to think globally, looking for ways to support fights around the world with our funding, solidarity, and online campaigns.
And we need to keep making our case to the public. Now is not the time to back down, shrug our shoulders, and say, “I guess people just don’t agree with us.” Hell no. There are millions upon millions of people who are part of this movement and millions more who are looking for change. There are still more workers in the solar industry than there are in coal, oil or gas. More so than ever, we need to make the case that the best way to revitalize our economy and create more good jobs is to invest in clean energy. Trump has promised to create jobs, lots of jobs, great jobs, beautiful jobs. At the White House on Thursday he said “infrastructure” was his number on priority. Well, there’s his chance.
Mass mobilization and bold action will be even more important in the years ahead. Our goal won’t just be to “convince” Trump that he needs to care about the climate or, as some suggest, figure out ways to partner with him. Our goal will be to build such massive political opposition to his agenda that he simply can’t move it forward without a vast majority of the country turning against him and the Republican party (and any weak-kneed Democrats who decide to go along with it).
The fight to prevent climate catastrophe has always been a long shot. We know that Hillary Clinton’s plans weren’t going to save the day and now Trump makes our work much, much harder. But he doesn’t make it impossible. As Bill McKibben has often said, I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we’re going to fight like hell.
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