Nobody is building a better lump of coal. But solar cells, thin film technologies, super capacitors and battery packs are evolving in accelerating feedback loops that might yet disrupt the self-reenforcing cycles of climate change. Employment in the renewable energy sector grew 18% globally last year, even as it collapsed in Australia, beaten down by a government of dangerous idiots and trolls for the coal industry. The number of jobs for Americans in clean energy keeps growing and dwarfing the shrinking numbers employed in digging up black lumps of carbonised plant matter and burning it for heat and light, even as Trump, the oversized novelty pumpkin-in-chief, rots in the sun, splits open and spills thousands of screeching fright bats into the air over the White House to celebrate withdrawing from the Paris Accords.
Give him this at least. He kept to his word; perhaps the first time in his whole life that decomposing boiled ham hasn’t broken his promise to a working stiff. Trump told coal miners he’d leave the Paris deal.
Or rather, he’ll start negotiating the exit, which takes a set amount of time and which, in one of those delicious ironies by which the Gods do mock us, would see him sign the final divorce papers the day after the next US presidential election. Except of course, there’s a half-decent chance that he’ll be in jail by then, probably sharing a cell with Steve Bannon, who’ll look even more creepily like a giant soggy hash brown of deep fried sadness and rejection than he does now.
Trump also told coal miners the fat days were coming back. They’re not. By taking the US out of Paris he walked out of the room where the energy deals of the next decade will be fought out. The fate of the fifty thousand or so black rock miners still working coal seams in the US will be settled in that room. But no Americans will be there when, say, the EU decides to tax or simply end imports of coal from West Virginia to the Netherlands.
Paris was a bitch to negotiate after the failure of Copenhagen in 2009 — the one where “the Chinese ratfucked us” according to Kevin Rudd — because the developing world, led by China and India demanded a reach-around for taking it in the chocolate pocket. If they were to give up the cheap, but dirty energy on which we built our civilisation, they wanted some sugar. They got it in the form of aid to embiggen and speedify their own renewable investments.
The loss of the two billion dollars America had promised to that end will hurt. For about three minutes. Until China swoops in to enjoy their moment of geo-strategic roflpwnage when they replace Washington as the developing world’s sugar daddy of choice. Increasingly, Beijing will lever itself into the role of preferred partner for richer, less busted-arse countries too.
While I’m writing this, diplomats from the EU and China are working on a joint statement in Brussels declaring “their intention to accelerate joint efforts to reduce global carbon emissions”.
France’s shiny new President Macron, fresh from his bone-crushing win over Trump in the Handshake Wars, is openly trolling him, inviting scientists and researchers to flee the US for safe haven in Paris.
And Elon Musk is building batteries.
In the end, Musk, who rage-quit Trump’s presidential business council within minutes of the Paris announcement, will probably have more sway over energy futures than this morning’s jolly tyre fire on the White House lawn. Unlike Trump, he’s an actual businessman, an entrepreneur, not just a twitchy orange mass of florid symptoms from the darker chapters of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual.
Musk isn’t just building electric cars. He’s bootstrapping a paradigm shift in energy markets, using electric cars and battery technology to create potential mega-profits not just for his company, but for global capital as a whole. He’s trying to light a fire that ignites a whole industry.
It’s weird that conservatives have lost sight of how much more powerful market forces are than government. But they have in this case. The profits to be had from clean energy will make the dwindling fortunes of the coal mining sector look like a rounding error.
But then, Donald Trump never was much of a businessman.