Jan Paul van Soest "We are not on the right road if we want to control the climate"
The election of Donald Trump as the new president of the United States has shocked the world. He is, undoubtedly, a narcissist and has more character traits that can make his presidency quite dangerous.
How on earth could a person like Trump become president? And what does it mean for climate and energy policies?
Certainly, the electoral system in the USA, where someone who only got a minority of the votes can still win, plays a role. But there’s more. Under the influence of (neo)liberalism, the social cement that keeps societies together in many Western countries has started to crumble. There is no such thing as society, Margaret Thatcher once said. The influential philosophy of Ayn Rand, which is very prominent in the USA, sees individualism and the pursuit of your own happiness as the highest purpose in life. In line with that manner of thinking, social benefits have been privatised, while the social costs are passed on to the community and future generations. Modern robber barons such as Bill Gates are placed on a pedestal because they do so much good for the world with their money, but in essence it means that the decision about what should be considered as collective goods has now also been privatised. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a wry example of the success of Ayn Rand’s capitalism: Greedy takers who pose as generous givers, while half of all Americans struggle to make a living.
And let’s not forget the phenomenon of denial, on all sides of the political spectrum. The Republicans, under the strong influence of the Tea Party movement, which has become big with the help of oil money, in particular the Koch Brothers (Koch Industries), have drifted away from science, especially science that is at odds with their ideological ideas. Climate science is a good example.
However, the Democrats have denied (and are still denying) plenty as well, especially when it comes to feelings of unrest, anger and despair that had started to develop in society. This is comparable to what is happening to the progressive elite here, who long denied those feelings, resulting in the emergence of Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders.
“The Paris agreement will result in a temperature rise of 3 degrees if all plans are carried out as described"
Interestingly enough, and not by chance, those movements - also Trump’s - are based on a (admittedly, relatively inept) social agenda, an attempt to work on collective facilities, shared values, infrastructure and (local) liveability. Opposition to the elite and their hobbies, including renewable energy and climate policy, the breakdown of society, fear as a result of a lack of perspective, despair because of a feeling of not being heard – those are important factors that contributed to Trump’s success.
I think that responding to that development with opposition, discontent, fear and desperation will only increase polarisation, and make the problems even harder to solve. Because talking about denial: Not only does a large percentage of the population (around 40%) still think that the idea that climate change is caused by human beings is nonsense, that view is found everywhere on the political spectrum, from Jan Marijnissen on the left to Geert Wilders on the right.
However, we will still have to deal with the Trumps and Wilderses of this world. Can we write a story that also appeals to the ideas and values of Trump and Wilders supporters? I see that the current climate story, with capitalism-as-usual and lots of technological magic to lower emissions, apart from everything else going on in society, does not work. ‘Paris’ will result in a temperature rise of 3 degrees if all plans are carried out as described, but 4 or 5 degrees is more likely, since reality is a lot more stubborn than what has been calculated by the models. We are heading for a deadlock, but we cherish the illusion that we are on the right road, and that we can get the problem under control. Maybe that is the effect of Trump’s win in the field of climate policies: We have been cruelly awoken from that dream. And maybe that was necessary. But how to continue from here? By Zeus, I do not know.