Moving Backwards

Did anyone seriously think Donald Trump would change his mind on climate change?

Apparently, former Vice President Al Gore’s highly publicized efforts to convince the Addams, er, Trump family to give efforts to reduce CO2 their due were for naught, as the apparent President-elect went ahead with plans to hand the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior over to climate-change deniers Scott Pruitt and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. (Trump is also reportedly leaning towards nominating ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State; Tillerson’s company, of course, is viciously opposing any effort to hold the fossil-fuel behemoth accountable for its decades of deception on climate change.) Why did Gore think that the addled minds of the Trump family could be changed?

Granted, Gore wasn’t the only climate hawk to fall for the malarkey that the Trump family would ever agree with Sen. Ed Markey. Last month, Fisher Stevens, the director of arguably the greatest climate documentary ever made, Before the Flood, told entertainment blogger Jeffrey Wells:

“His daughter Ivanka, whom I know and can get to…she seems a bit sensible…our kids were born the same day in the same hospital. I’m going to implore her to tell her father to oppose government corruption, to make a stand. Most of the climate deniers are on the payroll of lobbyists. I know it’s a long shot, but it’s the only thing I can think of to keep myself from going into a big black hole. We have access to her, and we’re going to try to sit down with her and try to influence her before Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell and others….what worries me most is not Trump but the people he’s surrounding himself with.”

With all due respect to Gore and Stevens, there’s no reasoning with the reprehensible. No evidence exists that anyone in the Trump family gives a crap about the climate: hell, Barron Trump probably thinks it’s a hoax too. That’s why it was sad to see Gore meet with this foul family; he must know by now that as soon as he left that meeting, they probably started laughing behind his back.

Aggressive activism, not flawed flattery, is the best way to respond to the threat Trump’s energy policies will pose to present and future generations, as Bill McKibben suggests:

We have done very little systematic study of these techniques. We have no West Point or Sandhurst for the teaching of nonviolence; indeed, it’s fair to say that the governments of the world have spent far more time figuring out how to stamp out such efforts than to promote them. (And given the level of threat they represent to governments, that is perhaps appropriate.) What we know is what we’ve learned by experience, by trial and error.

In my own case over the last decade, that’s meant helping to organize several large-scale campaigns or social movements. Some have used civil disobedience in particular—I circulated the call for arrestees at the start of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrations in 2011, and observers said the resulting two weeks of nonviolent direct action resulted in more arrests than any such demonstration on any issue in many years. Others have focused on large-scale rallies—some in this audience attended the massive climate march in New York in the autumn of 2014, organized in part by 350.org, which was apparently the largest demonstration about anything in this country in a long time. Others have been scattered: The fossil-fuel divestment campaign we launched in 2012 has been active on every continent, incorporated a wide variety of tactics, and has become the largest anticorporate campaign of its kind in history, triggering the full or partial divestment of endowments and portfolios with nearly $5 trillion in assets. These actions have helped spur many more such actions: Keystone represented a heretofore very rare big loss for Big Oil, and its success helped prompt many others to follow suit; now every pipeline, fracking well, coal mine, liquid-natural-gas terminal, and oil train is being fought. As an executive at the American Petroleum Institute said recently—and ruefully—to his industry colleagues, they now face the “Keystone-ization” of all their efforts…

[M]ovement-building—the mobilization of large numbers of people, and of deep passion, through the employment of all the tools at a nonviolent activist’s disposal—will continue, though it moves onto very uncertain ground with our new political reality. This work of nonviolent resistance is never easy, and it’s becoming harder. [Jonathan Schell’s] optimism in The Unconquerable World notwithstanding, more and more countries are moving to prevent real opposition. China and Russia are brutally hard to operate in, and India is reconfiguring its laws to go in the same direction. Environmentalists are now routinely assassinated in Honduras, Brazil, the Philippines. Australia, where mining barons control the government, has passed draconian laws against protest; clearly Trump and his colleagues would like to do the same here, and will doubtless succeed to one extent or another.

Something tells me that McKibben would have never bowed to King Donald and Princess Ivanka: he’d call for the political and cultural delegitimization of their kingdom.

If Trump’s energy policies are fully realized, Trump Tower itself could be submerged in a few decades. It will be up to people fighting power in the streets–not trying to placate the powerful in the suites–to stop that from happening.

NOTE: Paramount Pictures announced yesterday that it will release a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth in 2017. Of course, Donald and Ivanka Trump will never watch that film. More from Jeffrey Wells.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.