Climate Change And Trump’s Board-Game Patriotism

“Winning” means ramping up our production of fossil fuels.
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In his inaugural speech, President Trump talked about “open[ing] your heart to patriotism.” He said, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America.” Trump proclaimed, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.”

The speech arguably signaled the end of American multilateralism. Since then, Trump’s actions on foreign policy and immigration have been at turns alarming, bizarre, erratic, and dangerous. At the heart of Trump’s message is a fundamental and dangerous misunderstanding of what true patriotism means in a deeply interdependent world. “It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first,” Trump proclaimed. Even granting the premise that national interest comes first, this begs the question of what precisely national interest or, indeed, patriotism entails. Even on the grounds of loyalty to country alone, Trump’s vision is disastrous, a blinkered, board-game “patriotism” that is ultimately suicidal and unpatriotic. Though Trump’s critics have rightly called out his trashing of our alliances and his dalliance with Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians, there is perhaps no more concrete illustration of the self-destructiveness of Trump’s “patriotism” than in his approach to energy and climate change.

Taking the oath of office, Trump promised, “America will start winning again, winning like never before.” “Winning” means ramping up our production of fossil fuels. The so-called America First Energy Policy, which appeared on the White House website after Trump scrapped Obama’s climate change page, equates America’s national interest with fossil fuels, including oxymoronic “clean coal”:

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.
The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.
In addition to being good for our economy, boosting domestic energy production is in America’s national security interest. President Trump is committed to achieving energy independence from the OPEC cartel and any nations hostile to our interests.

There is no mention of wind, solar, or other energy sources, not even nuclear power. However, the fairly brief statement makes sure to say, “President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan.” The nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA should quell any doubts about Trump’s sincerity.

This is not even realpolitik, but a simplistic, board-game conception of national interest and patriotism, in which America “wins” by deploying as many natural resources as possible (never mind that harnessing “untapped shale, oil, and natural gas” is entirely inconsistent with “reviving America’s coal industry”). There is absolutely no recognition that our national interest - including national security - might be better served by restraint in exploiting fossil fuels, by protecting the landscape that has defined American identity, and by cooperating with other nations on mutual sacrifices to prevent calamitous climate change. In an interdependent world confronted with serious ecological constraints, zero-sum competition to become the winningest fossil fuel “superpower” means, to borrow Garrett Hardin’s famous phraseology, a catastrophic tragedy of the commons and the ruin of all.

“We must protect our borders,” Trump proclaims. Yet the greatest literal threat to our borders and our physical integrity and survival as a nation is not undocumented immigration or even terrorism. It is climate change. In undoing Obama’s climate policies, rejecting the Paris Agreement, and trying to drill our way to energy independence and prosperity, Trump will help ensure the inundation of our shores and major coastal cities (and Trump residences and resorts), the spread of disease-carrying insects from other lands, and heightened political instability overseas, as well as increasingly frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, and forest fires, and the loss of biodiversity and economically and culturally important landscapes. The very farmers that Trump’s policy claims to help are themselves already suffering the impacts of climate change. And this is setting aside the more immediate environmental impacts of drilling operations on land, water, fisheries, wildlife, public health, Native American communities, and private property.

In one of the few attempts at eloquence in his inaugural address, Trump told the audience that a child born in Detroit and a child born in Nebraska gaze up at the same sky. Perhaps he might recall that everyone on our planet shares that sky as well and that the children of America and of the Earth as a whole might be better served by an administration that cooperates with other nations to protect our atmosphere and climate.

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