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What choice do we have in 2024 if we're to save the planet?

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By Joel B. Stronberg

· 9 min read

It should be clear to everyone in the climate activist community that if the ex-president becomes the next president, it will knock U.S. climate policy back decades—yes, decades! The only thing worse would be his having a Republican Congress to help him do it. Given that the Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Trump (POT) and an upcoming all too-close-to-call presidential election, these are realistic possibilities.

Trump has now added to his list of grievances against wind turbines and the reasons why he will have none of them as president. The ex-president has previously accused the machines of eradicating the nation's birds, lowering property values, and causing cancer.

If you have a windmill anywhere near your house, congratulations, your house just went down 75 percent in value. And they say the noise causes cancer, you tell me that one, okay?

He now adds to his list of grievances: "Their [the woke] windmills are causing whales to die in numbers never seen before. No one does anything about that." Presumably, he was talking about offshore wind farms. However, he could just as well have said that whales fly, and thirty percent of the nation would agree and look up into the sky. When no flying Orcas could be seen, Mr. Trump would accuse the dreaded woke of having gotten to them first.

Unsurprisingly, turbine-related whale deaths aren't being discussed because they're not happening. Based on the best available scientific information, the statement is as false as Trump's other claims. It's not surprising when you consider he made 30,573 false or misleading statements while in office. It averages out to be 21 alternative truths a day.

Should he regain the White House, there's zero chance of his supporting climate-related research—including whales and windmills—whether at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Departments of Energy, Interior, or anywhere else in the government.

Nearly everything that Biden and any president before him have done to lower the rise of Earth's temperatures and protect the nation's environment would be undone in a Trump 2.0 administration. With a Republican Congress, a second Trump administration would unwind environmental policies back to the Nixon era, e.g., the National Environmental Protection Act and the Clean Air and Water Acts. Did I say  

Trump doesn't have an actual energy and environment plan. He isn't really a detail kinda' guy. But he does know what he wants—big picture-wise—regarding national climate and clean energy policies. He wants them gone only to be replaced by amped-up efforts to dig more coal and pump more oil and gas for consumption in the U.S. and around the world.

Remember, Trump is the guy who sent a coal delegation to the U.N. climate conference in Poland and made ugly faces in the presence of Greta Thunberg. Thunberg turned him green not long after she was hailed as Time's person of the year. In this case, the green was envy and not the environmental kind.

Although Trump doesn't bother his head with details, others do. The Heritage Foundation has spearheaded Project 2025: The Conservative Promise. Written by more than 350 right-wing contributors  at the cost of $22 million, the 1,000-page tome "is full of sweeping recommendations to deconstruct all sectors of the federal government––including environmental policy."

The effort resembles Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America." Gingrich, a former Speaker of the House, released the Contract in 1994 before the midterm elections. The Contract laid out in some detail a Republican legislative agenda that focused on drastically reducing the size of government and implementing the legislative priorities of the Tea Party movement. Gingrich's Contract was well received by voters—so much so that former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) issued his own conservative agenda called the "Commitment to America."

Pitched as a mandate for Republican leadership and supported "by more than 50 (and growing) of the nation's leading conservative organizations", the Heritage Foundation plan casts its agenda in familiar Trumpian terms. "In 2023, the game has changed. The long march of cultural Marxism through our institutions has come to pass." It speaks about a behemoth federal government "weaponized against American citizens and conservative values, with freedom and liberty under siege as never before."

According to POLITICOthe conservative blueprint "would block the expansion of the electrical grid for wind and solar energy; slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's environmental justice office; shutter the Energy Department's renewable energy offices; prevent states from adopting California's car pollution standards; and delegate more regulation of polluting industries to Republican state officials."

In a Project 2025 world, the Department of Energy would be renamed the Department of Energy Security and Advanced Science (DESAS). Its mission would be to provide "leadership on energy security and related national security issues." Security within the conservative context is extracting fossil fuels from wherever they may be, including on federal lands and waters, almost without exception—and as fast as fast can be.

The business of the DESAS includes promoting "U.S. energy resources as a means to assist our allies, diminish our strategic adversaries, and ensure the existence of markets that will support domestic energy production." The statement is problematic at a number of levels.

The assisting our allies bit is all about replacing Russia as Europe's supplier of fossil fuels. The task is at odds with the direction the European Union intends to go. Although replacing lost supplies of natural gas and petroleum due to the Ukraine war is critical in the near term, longer-term the E.U. is looking to increase its reliance on clean energy alternatives like solar and wind. In 2022, "the E.U. drew 22 percent of its electricity from solar and wind power, with renewable surpassing gas for the first time."

Project 2025's definition of "national security" is also at odds with the Defense Department's (DOD) beliefs about climate change and clean energy. The DOD sees climate change as an existential threat. Energy security, whether for the U.S. or the E.U.—indeed for any nation—means having domestically available energy supplies. European countries realize that swapping one foreign supplier (Russia) for another (the U.S.) doesn't make them ultimately more secure. It's a concept that DOD would hardly argue against.

Moreover, the ongoing possibility of Trump’s re-election makes the U.K., E.U., and NATO nervous. Trump has made it clear that he sees little advantage to overseas alliances as well as his opposition to the Ukraine war effort. An America under Trump may not be a better supplier than Russia after all. It’s natural then for our European allies wanting to be beholden as little as possible to another foreign supplier.

Project 2025 also looks to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and take back whatever is left of the $370 billion for wind, solar, electric vehicles, and other clean energy alternatives—including efficiency. The Project's plan also calls for "shutteringthe Department of Energy's Loan Programs Officewhich oversees $400 billion in loans to emerging clean technology companies.

Other programs that would be put on the chopping block in a Trump 2.0 administration would be the Department of Energy's Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OECD) and the Office of State and Community Energy Programs. OECD administers much of the IRA's $370 billion appropriation. DOE's state and local programs look to accelerate the "deployment of clean energy technologies, create jobs, and avoid pollution through place-based strategies involving a wide range of government, community, business, and other stakeholders."

Project 2025 isn't the only evidence we have of what a Republican energy and environment agenda would be. The Republican-controlled House passed H.R. 1, the Lower Energy Costs Act. The Act is an amalgam of various measures from multiple Republican-controlled House committees, including Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure. That the bill has been assigned the number "1" reflects the priority House Republicans place on energy reforms.

Predictably, the Act looks to increase the domestic production of fossil fuels. It also intends to claw back whatever is left of IRA funds appropriated to develop and deploy clean energy alternatives. The bill's provisions also include permitting reforms that would "ease restrictions" that delay pipelines, refineries, and other projects and boost the production of critical minerals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt used in products such as electric vehicles."

Biden has proven to be the most progressive president in U.S. history in his commitment to combat Earth's warming and the actions of his administration to speed the nation's transition to a low-carbon economy. However, like most politicians, Biden has over-promised and under-produced.

I understand the disappointment and betrayal felt by some in the activist climate community over Biden's performance. Much has been left undone, and even more needs to be done. But is it enough—as some would say—not to vote for him come November 5, 2024?

Some in the activist community threaten to punish the president by voting for someone else or not voting at all. There are alternatives to Biden that aren't named Trump. The anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy is one. Kennedy was a former senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Kennedy scion is running as an independent. So far, he's well-funded. Some think the money is from Republicans believing he'll pull votes from Biden—a not entirely unreasonable thought.

Cornell West is also running as an independent. West is "an American philosopher, political activist, social critic, actor, and public intellectual. The grandson of a Baptist minister, West's primary philosophy focuses on the roles of race, gender, and class struggle in American society." Dr. West's climate credentials are impeccable. He, too, is likely to draw off votes from Biden—especially from more liberal coastal blue states, e.g., Massachusetts, California, New York, and Washington State. States with a lot of electoral votes.

The No Labels party is also likely to run a third-party presidential candidate. The group of moderate Republicans and Democrats looks to promote common sense solutions to society's ills that can only come about through collaboration and compromise—the way Congress and the White House used to conduct the people's business.

No Labels has no candidate yet, but Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland, are two names mentioned frequently. Logan was well-liked by both Maryland Democrats and Republicans and had an outstanding record regarding clean energy and other climate-related policies. Manchin is facing a tough re-election in West Virginia, and it's speculated that he's looking to run for higher office.

None of the third-party contestants have a prayer in the world of being elected President of the United States. In a perfect world, I would be in the No Labels camp. But this isn't a perfect world, and the consequences of the last president becoming the next president are the stuff of nightmares.

Punishing Biden because he has a less-than-perfect clean energy and environmental record—is to condemn future generations to live in an unsustainable environment. The second time around, Trump will appoint his most avid supporters and apologists to cabinet and sub-cabinet positions.

The ex-president has learned not to appoint anyone who would dare be more loyal to the Constitution or the greater good than to him. His administration would attempt a wholesale slaughter of policies, regulations, and programs that even hint at combating climate change.

Even the incompetent would succeed. It makes no difference if legal challenges are ultimately successful. Time is of the essence. And court cases that take years to settle are as good as outright wins in Trump's world—and in the real world.

When it comes to the 2024 elections and their critical importance to keeping global temperatures below any safe threshold, there is no choice other than voting for Biden or whoever the Democrats put forward for the presidency as well as lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels. The alternative is enough to make you weep.

This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Joel B. Stronberg is a senior executive and attorney and the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients.

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