By Roy L Hales
The American people have spoken. Donald Trump is not Dr Allan Hoffman’s choice for President. While it is still possible that Trump will be more reasonable than his pre-election rhetoric suggests, this is unlikely. Hoffman described Trump as a demagogue who appears to be a climate denier, whose statements about energy were “uninformed, ignorant and terrible.” Never-the-less, he has been elected and, for the next four years, “the American public is going to have to live with that.” Hoffman spoke about the realities of living with a Trump presidency.
Living With A Trump Presidency
“If you go on the basis of what he said, it is going to be a very difficult period for those of us concerned about clean energy and (the) environment … (Trump) has made some statements that are terribly critical of solar energy and wind energy, but then there are contradictory statements that he makes at other times, if you look at his website … The bottom line is that it is really hard to know what he is going to do as President. An important clue is who he will put into the 4,000 positions he has control over in the new government,” said Hoffman.
“The next few years are going to be a real test of the American system of checks and balances. Democracies are always vulnerable to the rise of demagogues. … When demagogues arose in Europe in the 1930s, in the form of Mussolini and the form of Hitler, things got rapidly out of control as these people basically took over countries in a non-democratic way. The United States is now in the position where a demagogue has been elected President … but the U.S. President is not a dictator. He cannot just decide what happens in this country and if you go back to the record of other presidents, you see that many of them tried to do certain things but were unsuccessful.”
Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of the departments of energy and education – but failed. Unlike Trump, President Reagan faced a Democrat controlled congress. Trump will initially have the support of a republican controlled house and senate, but it is by no means certain that he can count on them to attack the nation’s energy and environmental sectors.
“I have to believe that not all Republicans are going to back what he has said. A lot of them were very concerned by Trump’s statements during the campaign and there will be opposition to some of his extreme positions,” said Hoffman.
United States Energy System Is Highly Decentralized
Trump’s attempts to hinder renewable development will be hindered by the fact the nation’s energy system is highly decentralized. For example, the federal government does not make the decisions governing utility policies. Those are set by individual states.
“Wind and solar are now price competitive with fossil fuels and certainly competitive with nuclear, which tends to be quite expensive. Decisions are going to be made not just on an ideological basis, but on a pragmatic basis of how we can generate our energy in the most cost effective way and all of that will be in the context of trying to reduce carbon emissions and other emissions that impact our climate – and that includes CO2, that includes methane, natural gas, and that includes nitrogen oxide, which is a residue from agricultural activities,” said Hoffman.
He dismissed the arguments against global warming as simply “dead wrong.”
“The temperatures deep in the oceans are changing, they are going up. A lot of the heat that is being generated by global warming going into the ocean and we are measuring that. That is not a debatable point; that is a measurement.”
“Global sea levels are rising. That’s measurable as well, it’s not debatable. When sea levels rise, coastal communities get flooded. Salt water infuses into fresh water supplies and contaminates them so you cannot drink the water without cleaning it up with desalinization.”
“Insects are moving from one location to another because of changing temperatures on land in a manner that is obviously faster than historical trends suggest. That’s all real, you cannot deny that stuff.”
“A lot of things that are going to come into play here. You can certainly not expect California and other states to change what they are doing now to reduce global warming and carbon emissions. You should certainly not expect other countries to change what they are doing.”
The Real Price For the United States
“There is a real price for the United States because the future energy system is going to be highly dependent on clean energy. The United States would like, and should be, a major player in the economy that supplies those technologies. Other countries have been moving ahead for years while the United States held back under previous presidents. That means economic growth, that means jobs, reduced environmental health, improved health and so on. There are lots of reasons for moving forward … and if the United States decides to bail on this because of Trump and his administration, it will have an impact but not … the horrific impact that some people have anticipated.”
“China is moving actively into the renewable field not for ideological reasons but because it is important for their country to reduce the pollution they get from fossil fuels, particularly coal. India is moving in the same direction ….” he said.
“The United States can impact the pace at which some things happen, but it is not going to stop other nations from moving forward.”
Forty Years Of U.S. Renewable Development
Few Americans possess Dr. Allan Hoffman’s insight into the development of the nation’s renewable sector. His dismissal of Trump’s allegation that climate change is a hoax, invented by the Chinese, as “untrue” arises from personal experience. In 1978, Hoffman presented President Jimmy Carter with the interdepartmental energy plan that would have launched the nation’s adoption of renewable energy decades ago.
Hoffman resigned late in the Carter Administration, out of frustration with insufficient budget support for renewables, but subsequently served under four other presidents. He watched in further frustration as succeeding administrations let the United States’ leadership in solar and wind energy development dissipate. Hoffman was 71-years-old by the time Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and a senior analyst in the Department of Energy. He finally retired in 2012.
“There are a lot of things that are happening now that are moving in the right direction and it’s not going to stop.”
He added that Trump can slow down America’s adoption of renewable energy, but he cannot stop it.
“When people start seeing all the jobs going to other countries, it is going to have an impact back here in the United States because there is a tremendous amount of manufacturing that is going to take place and the United States should be a center of that.”
Is There Still A Place For Fossil Fuels?
Dr. Hoffman argues that there is still a place for fossil fuels, and with proper regulation and enforcement it is possible to reduce fracking incidents to an acceptable level.
“If we don’t do that job well, then there is no benefit to natural gas over coal.”
Asked if adequate regulations are in force anywhere in the United States, he replied some claim they are. He mentioned Pennsylvania’s legislation adding, “We will have to see” if it works.
The fossil fuel sector will continue to expand because people want the energy (and money), but the eventual transition to a fossil free economy is inevitable.
“I am very concerned about the increase in (global) temperature because I think a lot of the impacts are going to be very adverse. For example, climate change will change precipitation patterns. We aren’t going to have the same water supply system that we’ve had for the last 200 years. It is a very uncertain future.”
What Can We Do?
So what can the American public do?
“The first thing is to recognize that a President cannot do just anything that he wants. So, calm down a little bit. The initial reaction is that he is going to do this on day one of his administration. He can’t do that, he just can’t do that,” said Hoffman.
“The other thing is to be eternally vigilant. A long time ago somebody said the price of liberty is eternal vigilance – well that is absolutely true … We are going to have to watch this administration as carefully as we can.”
“We also have to recognize that a lot can be done on the state level. … If you cannot do it on the federal level because of Trump and his people, you can do it on the state level and that is (already) happening in lots of different ways.”
For example, the United States does not have any federal policy for net metering, so close to 40 states have adopted their own net metering laws.
“We should keep pushing on our state legislators and decision makers to promote the increasing use of clean energy.”
The business community needs to be part of this dialogue. One of the strongest arguments for the adoption of renewables is economic.
“A lot people in the private sector, who presumably have the ear of the Trump administration, will simply say it makes a lot of sense to go this way.”
Hoffman says that If it had the political will, and made appropriate investments, reports show that America could obtain 80% of its’ electrical energy from renewable sources by 2050.
(Listen to Dr. Hoffman describe these issues in more detail – as well as topics like the United States’ attitudes towards a woman President, the keystone XL pipeline, and oil by rail – in the podcast above)
Top Photo Credit: President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Nov. 10, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)