The walking dead in Washington | RenewEconomy

The walking dead in Washington

How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback for action on climate change, inequality, human rights and global security?



We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic.

I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.

How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place?  In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.

Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.

What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.

A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks.

They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.

This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.

We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way.

There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.

Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.

Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.

He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe–  prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.

The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation.  How is this good?

Because three big things will change.

First, there will no-one left to blame. Extreme capitalism will be unleashed and it will not deliver. The fraud of trickle-down economics will be exposed.

Secondly – US climate policy will no longer matter – fossil fuels will die on the same schedule they were dying on. As I argued in my 2015 article “Fossil fuels are finished, the rest is detail”, these are fundamental trends driven by technology and markets – and no government can stop them.

Thirdly – and most importantly – is “the resistance”. We are seeing a huge mobilisation of activism and social engagement among people who have long been passive – as this humorous post describes. This is like the 60’s – without the drugs but with a political strategy!

Climate change will be our Vietnam, the fossil fuel industry our military industrial complex. It could trigger, as this Atlantic article explored, a Tea Party of the left – maybe even a Green Tea Party. Chaotic, aggressive and not always rational, but very impactful. And the liberal wealthy elites will get right behind it – because they too have a lot to lose from extreme capitalism and climate chaos.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Don’t we now face a period of extreme upheaval and risk? Yes, but in case you hadn’t noticed, we already are. Ask a Syrian climate refugee trying to get into Europe. Observe theterrifying trends at our melting ice caps.  Talk to a disaffected, scared, unemployed factory worker in middle America who sees no prospects for themselves and their kids.  The system is breaking down.

We’re racing towards the cliff. Despite our desperate denial, we are going to face a global crisis, regardless of what we do. This will not be gentle.

So we need to face reality on how really dramatic change could actually occur.  System change doesn’t happen incrementally and is not triggered by traditional political processes – it takes a crisis. With Clinton, we would have blundered our way closer to the cliff, deluded by small progress. With Trump, we may just wake up in time.

The Great Disruption is now in full swing. We face the most important choice in human history – economic decline and the descent into chaos – possibly collapse – or transformation into a very different economy and society. Having the walking dead in Washington may be just what we need.

This article was originally published on Reproduced with permission.

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  1. George Darroch 4 years ago

    I admire your optimism.

  2. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    I’m not looking forward to the hard landing !

  3. Jim Young 4 years ago

    Two thoughts come to mind.

    Mark Twain said, “Experience is the best teacher, but only a fool needs it.

    “What ever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Sometimes the last words of someone who tested it and provided observers with the benefits of experience at the fool’s expense.

    It would be nice if they were the only ones to suffer the consequences, instead of threatening all of us.

  4. Phil Gorman 4 years ago

    At last an article that fearlessly expounds the reality of the situation. The odious Trump is the catalyst we had to have. Business as usual was getting nowhere slowly. There is no time left for slowly.

    Sudden profound disruption is happening now. Everywhere the Global Corpocracy is winning gullible hearts and minds. The Crypto Fascists Authoritarians are coming out in numbers. The status quo is overturned. All restraint is being swept away. Capitalism, red in tooth and claw, is unleashed. There can be no-one else to blame for the ensuing horrors. This is the last opportunity for humanity. Bring it on!

  5. Jens Stubbe 4 years ago

    I talked to a friend and former project partner that is arranging a big conference on Synfuels in Copenhagen. He is managing a project that target to increase the conversion efficiency of a wellknown industrial Hydrogen electrolyzer technology (no strategic materials used) from 73% to 90%.

    In this week too I saw that Saudi Arabia expect to breach the USD 0.02/kWh threshold next month – some 18% cost reduction in less than five month since November where the auction in UAE gave a solar solar record at USD 0.0242/kWh.

    Another four year run for offshore wind like between 2012 and 2016 hereabouts Denmark where I live will bring cost below USD 0.01/kWh. Granted the offshore wind is still a tad more expensive than the average onshore and the industry majors only expect a 40% cost reduction over the next four years. Then again they did not promise 75% costdrop between 2012 and 2016 (this is not from the bloated British figures but for the realistic Danish figures).

    The shallow parts of the Northsea can deliver all the electricity that the European continent uses including a complete electrification of the entire transport sector.

    In Europe the fossil supply chains have certainly seen the writing on the wall. In 2016 120.000 workers employed in the fossil supply in just UK was laid off. That is more than the total number of people employed in green tech throughout Europe. To put things into perspective Vestas employ 21.000 globally as they did already in 2011. The 25 doubling of their stock market valuation has been achieved without the addition of staff count.

    If anything Trump would inspire a last foolhardy defiant stand that will lead the fossil industries to overspend on assets that even before they are completed will be stranded assets. Last year saw 95% growth in US solar power capacity. If the rest of the world did the same the entire planet would be done with fossil by 2025 as 8 doublings is all it takes including substituting all petrochemical production with cheaper Synfuels based upon RE.

    Despite the zero impact on the disruption I would still prefer a professional in charge.

  6. Radbug 4 years ago

    It’s very tempting to live in Imperial Envy and think that if you simply copied what they did in the heyday, you’ll live as well as they did in the heyday.

  7. Malcolm M 4 years ago

    It would have been very difficult for Clinton, just as it has been for Obama, with the Republicans in control of both Houses. This way the Republicans won’t have anyone else to blame.

  8. Jim Guidry 4 years ago

    This is the stupidest thing on the internet. Yeah, bring on the socialism. You’ll be complaining about it in 5 minutes. Dopes.

    • Coley 4 years ago

      So sad, you folks voted me in, the blue collars really believed that voting me, a former billionaire, in, that I would really do anything other than bring in my fellow ( real billionaires) smart folks everyone, gracious, know what I mean, they call me Mr president these days, so gracious,so smart.
      Unlike you, not so smart maybe? The fake news tell you that my inaguration numbers weren’t so great? Sad, failing media, tell fake news, but what they don’t tell you, ordinary people voting for for a yuuuge con man takes a special kind of stupid, so we aren’t that far apart.

    • nakedChimp 4 years ago

      Your mind is pretty shallow if all you see as alternative to the status quo is being labeled as ‘socialism’..
      Poor SOB.
      No fantasy anymore in those grumpy queens these days.

      • Jim Guidry 4 years ago

        Well if there was actually an alternative in the diatribe above you might have me, but since none was proposed I’m left to my imagination. Shallow as it may be….

  9. Alex Hromas 4 years ago

    I Hope you are right unfortunately there is no evidence of a hard green party forming in the Democrats and getting control as is the case with the Tea party. There was a major journalistic malfunction during the election campaign with reports of “angry white men” voting for Trump 2 important adjectives were omitted “really stupid”. These RSAWM will be the ones most hurt by Trumpconomics and perhaps their anger will be more effective than the green left in USA

    • Zipinparadise 4 years ago

      You don’t think that thee Democratic Party has moved well toward the left — while still being well to the right of the international political center-point? I see that party moving yet further — because it will be impossible to keep Sanders and Warren from mobilizing — while, unfortunately the other Western nations confront the neo-liberalization of their own social democratic parties. So crucial for new post-liberal parties to spring up from that decay!

  10. Syd Walker 4 years ago

    I agree with much of this article.

    However, it seems to me it misses a crucial factor. Sadly, many of my environmentalist friends miss it too.

    Clinton campaigned on a significantly more bombastic and war-mongering platform than Trump. Her desire to complete the cruel destruction of Syria was obvious. Her anti-Russian mania was scary. And of course, we had the experience of Clinton’s tenure at the State Dept, when she surrounded herself with neocon nutcases such as Victoria (“F*** Europe”) Nuland, whose Israel-first agenda is the root cause of the USA foolish interventionist wars over the last decade and a half. On her watch the nation that had the highest Human Development Index in Africa (Libya – a prosperous nation in 2010 before the NATO assault) was reduced to rubble and chaos, and the murderous foreign-backed assault on Syria was launched.

    I’m glad I wasn’t a US citizen in November 2016, because other than casting an effectively wasted vote for Jill Stein, it was a choice between environmental insanity or militaristic brinkmanship in which the prospects for World War were being talked up, not hosed down. What a choice!

    If the Democrats want to regain electoral success in the USA they need to become the ‘peace party”, stop weeding out the handful of peace-leaning, genuinely independent Democrats who do make it into Congress such as Cynthia McKinney and Denis Kucinich – and ensure that their foreign policy is not determined by the interests of a parasitic lobby group whose interests are congruent neither with the USA or the global community as a whole. The fate of Tulsi Gabbard – a dynamic and promised young Democrat from Hawaii, will be a good indicator of whether the Dems will continue to put the interests of the Military Industrial Complex and Israel Lobby above the interests of ordinary people and the planet.

    • Zipinparadise 4 years ago

      So well said. I hope there is something to be positive about there. I guess with nihilism we can hope that the rotten flesh degrades and leaves new life that can be the source of a new beginning…And life always springs from decay, doesn’t it? 🙂

      • Syd Walker 4 years ago

        Even in Australia, we have a fixation on military adventurism and military boat that’s shared by all major parties in Parliament – even The Greens.

        Just before the last Federal election Senator Di Natale spoke to the Lowy Institute and said the Greens support six (not 12!) new generation submarines. How did the Greens ever come up with that policy?!!! Who was consulted before the Greens party leader pledged his support for an expenditure of AT LEAST $25 billions on weapons that have no genuine defensive value but which could be used in a “forward attack” to help trigger WW3?

        The “Australian Defence Force” is increasingly a misnomer. We fight wars to keep other people happy that have zero to do with the real interests of Australians – at a time when we should be pouring resources into making our way of life sustainable.

        And while there was once huge overlap between the peace and environmental movements, these days way too many of the latter behave as though world peace is assured and requires no effort to achieve.

  11. Zipinparadise 4 years ago

    I was in agreement, until I read the following, ” And the liberal wealthy elites will get right behind it – because they too have a lot to lose from extreme capitalism and climate chaos.”
    IF the liberal elites “get behind it” (and co-opt it –as they do most every movement), it will be another dead end movement, as — we should have learned by now — liberalism, and elitism are the existential ideological problem driving our ecosystem and mankind toward extinction. How could you NOT get that??

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