How do we save the climate from President Trump?

The power of local resistance in the face of destructive political forces. 

I was in my last year of high school when U.S. President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. Driven by grief and a sense of helplessness (I couldn’t even vote, let alone in America) I did the only thing I could: I joined protest marches. During that spring in 2003, I watched the crowds grow beyond anything I’ve seen before or since in Vancouver: 10,000 at a rally in January, then 40,000 in February as millions of people across the globe cried out for the President to stop.

It wasn’t enough. The war went ahead, and the whole world is still suffering the consequences. But the outpouring from Canadians was enough to cement the Chretien government’s position against the invasion, despite support from the Canadian Alliance party, led by Stephen Harper. The Alliance subsequently lost the 2004 election.

Today Harper was on Twitter, congratulating President-elect Donald J. Trump:

“KXL” is shorthand for Keystone XL, the oil sands pipeline blocked by the Obama administration amid backlash from Nebraska ranchers, U.S. climate activists and Native American tribes.

Keystone is not the only fossil fuel mega-project supported by President-elect Trump, who famously believes that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese government to undermine the U.S. economy. Trump has given his blanket support to fracking, drilling, coal mining and oil transport, vowing to cut regulations, roll back climate action and walk away from the Paris Accord.

That’s not something we have control over in Canada. But in their grief and helplessness, I predict Canadian voters will inflict heavy consequences on politicians who align themselves with Trump’s policies, including his apocalyptic vision of a fossil-fueled future.

There are other lessons from Trump’s victory – and Hillary Clinton’s defeat – that should give Canadian politicians pause. Last night was a stark repudiation of old-school establishment politics. Anyone still relying on big-ticket fundraisers, pork-barrel cronyism, traditional polling or friendly media outlets should be very worried. There’s a backlash building, and it transcends the traditional political spectrum.

Justin Trudeau and Christy Clark’s cash-for-access dinner parties, friends in high places and we-know-best approach to policy are reminiscent of the Democratic Party when it was riding high. That puts Canadian liberals in a tough spot. If they alienate grassroots conservatives with their lavish spending and elitist ways – but also alienate progressives by aligning their pipeline plans with Trump’s pro-oil, anti-science administration – they’re in big trouble.

I don’t want to diminish the tragedy of what happened in the United States last night. My American friends and many Canadians are in tears today, fearful for how a Trump presidency will hurt women, the LGBTQ community, Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, Muslims, Jews, veterans, people with disabilities. Sadly, even the downwardly mobile white people who gave Trump the win are likely to suffer further once he takes power.

But the same combination of disenfranchisement and cheap digital technology harnessed by Trump’s campaign also gave us Bernie Sanders and Standing Rock.

We’re entering an era of populist, mobile-driven movement politics. As Trump toured the “Rust Belt” of America in the final days of the campaign, he told workers in each factory how many jobs they had lost. It was another reminder that all politics is local. If we can find a way to use communications tools to harness that ground-level feeling of having your home destroyed by faraway elites, I think we stand a fighting chance.

After all, there’s a reason Mr. Harper is cheering on Trump from the sidelines rather than the Prime Minister’s office. His policies created an existential threat for thousands of voters – First Nations families living in grinding poverty, students and young workers with no economic future, British Columbians defending their health and safety from the global oil and coal industry. Those people rose up and tossed him out.

The key is to tap into that emotional reality without scapegoating our neighbours. We need to direct what are legitimate feelings of fear and anger toward the people who hold real power over our lives.

Unlike the Iraq War, we actually can slow down the destructive force of climate change with local action. That’s what threatens coal plants in China as people lash out against an authoritarian regime that is choking their children with toxic ash. On the supply side, Trump’s emergence as the pro-coal, Big Oil boogeyman could spur a lockdown on carbon exports, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

Reducing dangerous climate pollution means keeping coal, oil and methane in the ground. That will come down to local resistance – political, legal, maybe physical. And the more President Trump cracks down on protesters, the harder he pushes to build pipelines through tribal land, the more I think he will galvanize opposition around the world.

The storms are coming. As our glaciers deteriorate, drought and wildfires intensify, we face a tipping point every bit as dangerous as that spring in 2003. We can’t afford to get this wrong. Having a monster in the White House does not absolve us of the moral obligation to keep fighting, wherever we call home.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about two key lessons we need to learn from the Republican Party, and how organizers can put them into practice in B.C.

7 Responses to “How do we save the climate from President Trump?”

  1. douglas taylor says:

    The Trump victory was very much propelled by the evangelical Christian vote. Do the math! They are 20% of the registered US electorate and have a voter turnout rate much higher that the average. 80% of them voted for Trump. The large majority of them attribute climate change to God’s will so it is no concern to them. By voting for Trump their objective was to win the opportunity to roll back LBGT and abortion legislation. What the world gets is an enormous negative impact to any action on climate change (and nuclear proliferation and international trade).

    To effectively confront climate change, the education of the religious right is a must. Remember, Trumps stated position on climate change is only what his targeted electorate wanted to hear.

    • You have that so wrong. Christians voted primarily against the Democratic Party’s policies, not for a billionaire whose with questionable policy. Christians had good reason to vote against Hillary’s policies that would reduce religious freedom, that would further limit the rights of full-term unborn children, and that would force Christian organizations to adopt policies like mandatory gender neutral locker rooms and washrooms in Christian buildings (which was coming under Obama administration). I would like to point out that with all Hillary’s big money backers, and style of politics she was unlikely to follow through on any serious environmental changes. I just couldn’t have seen it happen. As a strong environmentalist, and a Christian, I wanted to clarify that viewpoint.

  2. Shy Writer says:

    I was listening to some Leonard Cohen music after hearing that he passed away earlier today and started thinking about the recent US election as I heard “Democracy is Coming to the USA”. His poetry/lyrics evokes the fragility of justice and individual lives in the face of far too many injustices. Cohen’s democracy, or “ship of state”, is simultaneously a monstrous and magnificent thing:

    Sail on, sail on
    Oh mighty ship of State
    To the shores of need
    Past the reefs of greed
    Through the Squalls of hate
    Sail on, sail on, sail on

    His is a mature and seasoned view of a commitment to democracy; scars, wounds, despair and hope are basic elements. Recognizing its potential for both horror and beauty, he is not about to give up on the project:

    I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
    I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
    And I’m neither left or right
    I’m just staying home tonight
    Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
    But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
    As time cannot decay
    I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
    Democracy is coming to the USA

  3. Robert C. says:

    “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
    Sound like someone we know?

  4. Mike Webster says:

    Overall, I am glad that Trump won – in part because of his focus on the negative impacts of free trade and massive immigration. Both policies are rooted in the ideology of continuous economic growth – which is unsustainable in a world of limited resources. I am also tired of the political correct crowd using words like racism and sexism to try to silence everyone who expresses a different opinion from theirs. Trump is not deterred by name-calling.

    However I abhor Trump’s climate change and environmental policies. Also I am worried about his intention to lower taxes in the U.S. (since Canadian politicians may think they have to do so as well to stay “competitive”.

    How to change Trump’s views on the environment and global warming? Send submissions to his wife and four adult children. Ivanka is especially influential in Trump’s life. If his adult children do not yet have children of their own, they will in the future. Trump’s adult children will want their children to grow up in an environmentally clean world that is not threatened by disorder because of climate change. Convince his kids of the threat that climate change poses – and they may well persuade Trump to change his mind. A similar strategy has worked before.

    • I agree with you that he is not as bad as lots of people are making it–accept when it comes to the environment. It was the same with Harper, I could live with everything else accept his environmental policies! Interesting slant to get to his heart through his children. It might work!

  5. John Turnbull says:

    One of the better ways to save the climate in the wake of a Trump victory is to make a strange business case for green energy. Create good quality jobs throughout the nation, strengthen energy independence and huge return on investment. There is no need to evoke climate change to promote green energy. Elon Musk has open sourced the patents for his electric cars. I do not know if he has done the same for the Mega Factory (batteries) and the new (proposed?) solar panel factory near Buffalo New York. In a recent interview, Mr Musk stated that the world would need 1000 Mega Factories to make enough batteries to switch the planet to solar energy and that it would be doable but Tesla could not do it alone. Sound like a jobs project that would stimulate the US economy and that of any other nation, Canada, that chose to follow?

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