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Issue #1784      July 5, 2017

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Trump versus the environment

Why are US media and politicians making such a song and dance about alleged Russian “interference” in the US election that saw Donald Trump elevated to the White House? No one has gone so far as to say that the Russians actually determined the outcome, that without their “interference” Trump would not now occupy the Oval Office. No, it is all suggested and implied, a classic smear in fact. But why?

In the US in recent decades it costs a lot of money to make a run for the Presidency. Only those with deep pockets or people who have the backing of those with deep pockets can hope to be successful. Donald Trump is a billionaire real estate developer, but more importantly, he has the support of one of the wealthiest (and hence most powerful) segments of US capitalism: the fossil fuel industry (coal and gas, but especially Big Oil).

Big Oil has called the shots in US foreign policy for decades now. Big Oil dictated the invasion (and destruction) of Iraq as well as NATO’s destruction of Libya (preceded by a massively deadly air-war against the defenceless country), the pandering by the US to the monstrous regime in Saudi Arabia and the US-organised subversion against the popular government of South American oil producer Venezuela.

Towards the end of the 20th century, commentators openly spoke of the impending “resource wars of the 21st century”. The US oil industry was out to secure for itself the dominating position in the global economy by controlling global energy resources and US military might was going to help it to do so. However, big oil had a problem: the movement for the protection of the environment was gathering momentum and the burning of fossil fuels was identified as a major contributor to global warming. Not only the scientific community but many capitalist governments also adopted positions favouring clean, green energy sources over fossil fuels.

In fact, fossil fuels – particularly coal – were considered doomed, “a dead man walking”, while renewable energy sources began to boom. President Obama introduced a Clean Power Plan into the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power stations and severely diminished the USA’s use of coal. He signed the US up to the Paris climate agreement, an agreement that requires significant reductions in US emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, principally through curbs on the combustion of fossil fuels. He also mandated improvements in the efficiency of petroleum-fuelled vehicles so they consume less fuel.

However, Obama is no longer US President. He has been replaced by Donald Trump who has the wealthy entrepreneur’s contempt for science when it conflicts with his self-interest and is unashamedly the point-man for Big Oil and the rest of the fossil fuel lobby. During his election campaign Trump shed copious crocodile tears about the plight of coal miners put out of work by the shift from fossil fuels to renewables and assured them he would revive the coal industry. Why do I say “crocodile tears”? Because Trump has absolutely no real interest in alleviating the problems of ordinary working people, whatever industry they’re in. His sole interest is in boosting profits, his own primarily but then those of the corporations that are backing him. And that means boosting coal company profits. Naturally, the cogent environmental reasons why coal is being phased out all over the world do not interest him. They certainly don’t meet with his approval!

In fact, in Trump the fossil fuel industry has found a real champion. He has big – even grandiose – plans for the future of fossil fuels. For decades, the US has been engaged in the struggle to gain control over the world’s energy resources. It has waged wars (military, economic or diplomatic) against oil producers Libya, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela and Nigeria. Its client state Saudi Arabia is trying to dominate and in fact to subjugate tiny Qatar with its giant natural gas fields. Trump is now engaged in trying to form an actual cartel of oil producers. His predatory approach to international relations led him to present himself as (oil producer) Russia’s friend in the early part of his election campaign. His continued aggression against Russia’s ally Syria however has given the lie to that.

Obama had moved to mend diplomatic fences with Saudi Arabia’s sworn enemy Iran, but Trump flew to Riyadh to reaffirm the USA’s alignment with the feudal Saudi royals. Trump told the Saudis: “We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership.” Michael T Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in the US, and author of The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, comments that “As part of this ‘partnership’, he [Trump] signed a US$110 billion arms sales agreement with the Saudis. Expected additional sales over the coming decade could bring the total to $350 billion.”

Klare has no doubt about Trump’s policy goals: “Domestically, he’s pulled out all the stops in attempting to cripple the rise of alternative energy and ensure the perpetuation of a carbon-dominated economy. Abroad, he is seeking the formation of an alliance of fossil-fuel states led by the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, while attempting to isolate emerging renewable-energy powers like Germany and China. ... His loyalty seems to be reserved solely for states that produce fossil fuels, while his disdain is largely directed at countries that favour green energy.”

Or, to put it another way, if you share Trump’s view of the world “you will lend your support to nations that embrace fossil fuels and punish those that favour the alternatives”.

Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate agreement, to allow free rein to the greenhouse gas-producing fossil fuel industry. “In announcing his decision, the president claimed, however inaccurately, that the Paris accord would allow other countries, including China and India, to continue building coal plants while preventing the US from exploiting its own fossil-fuel assets, and so would benefit their economies at America’s expense. ‘We have among the most abundant energy reserves on the planet, sufficient to lift millions of America’s poorest workers out of poverty,’ he declared. ‘Yet, under this agreement, we are effectively putting these reserves under lock and key, taking away the great wealth of our nation’,”Klare says.

“When speaking of the abundant energy reserves he seeks to develop, Trump was not, of course, referring to the nation’s limitless wind and solar potential, but rather to its oil, coal, and natural gas supplies. He bragged about how coal mines were already ‘starting to open up’ again and emphasised his plans to eliminate all restrictions on drilling for oil and natural gas on federal lands.”

However, Trump’s abandonment of the Paris climate accord has revealed significant divisions within the US ruling class, with a large number of city and state administrations as well as corporations (including Apple, Google, Tesla, Target, eBay, Adidas, Facebook, and Nike) banding together under the slogan “We Are Still In,” to implement America’s commitment to the climate accord independently of what Washington says or does.

Despite critics at home, Trump has been pressing on regardless. “The vigour with which Trump is pursuing this grand scheme was on full display during his recent visit to the Middle East and Europe”, says Klare, “as well as in his decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. In Saudi Arabia, he danced and dined with oil-drenched kings, emirs, and princes; in Europe, he dismissed and disrespected NATO and the green-leaning European Union; at home, he promised to eliminate any impediment to the expanded exploitation of fossil fuels, the planet be damned.”

From Trump’s perspective of establishing a global energy cartel, promoting some kind of alliance between the US and Russia must have seemed like a very good thing. “From this perspective, an alliance of Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States makes perfect sense. ... As the world’s three leading producers of petroleum, they account for about 38% of total global oil output. The US and Russia are also the world’s top two producers of natural gas. Along with Saudi Arabia, they jointly account for 41% of global gas output,” observes Klare.

However, in the long term, Russia has a lot more to gain from co-operating with China in developing not only alternative energy sources but alternative world transport systems (the so-called and very exciting “New Silk Road”). Trump’s fossilised thinking has little to offer Moscow.

If push comes to shove, the environment’s global supporters will trump the advocates for fossil fuel use, the efforts of Donald Trump to hold back the tide notwithstanding.

Next article – China rising – Outlines for the 21st century

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