Dear President-elect Trump:
Well, you won. You were not my choice, but you’re soon going to be my president. I have no intention of forgetting or forgiving the abhorrent things you said and did during the campaign. They hurt real people, debased our political process and erased social norms vital for keeping our diverse society together. I am not done resisting all that just because you won.
However, I’m not going to spend every day hoping you fail. Too much is at stake. Since you’re clearly rethinking some of your extreme campaign promises, the right response for me is principled engagement. So let’s start now: Please revisit your claim that climate change is a hoax.
Nothing would get the attention of your opponents more than if you declared your intent to take a fresh look at the climate issue. It would force many of them to give you a second look — and virtually none of your supporters would care, because few voted for you on this issue and they all know that their kids understand the climate is changing and would be heartened if you did, too.
Speaking of kids, Mr. Trump, yours run your golf course business. Surely they’ve mentioned that Doral will be your first course threatened by global warming, because parts of Miami are already flooding due to sea-level rise from melting ice. According to The Real Deal, which covers South Florida real estate news, “Parts of Miami Beach could be inundated with floodwaters in as little as 15 years.” That would make your oceanside courses into ocean-floor courses.
This is no hoax. The U.S. just experienced its third-warmest October on record, and, as The Washington Post noted on Thursday, “North America’s most astonishing warmth this week has focused in Canada, where temperatures have been up to 30 degrees warmer than normal.” That’s unprecedented.
When you visit the Pentagon, ask the generals about climate change. Here’s what they'll tell you: A majority of immigrants flooding Europe today are not coming from Syria or Iraq. Three-quarters are from arid zones in central Africa, where the combination of climate change and runaway population growth are making small-scale farming unsustainable.
Last April, as part of a National Geographic Channel documentary, I followed a group of these refugees from Senegal through Niger on their way to Libya and Europe. Thousands make this trek every month. The same thing will happen in our hemisphere — and no wall will keep them back. You can’t ignore climate change and think you have an immigration policy.
At the same time, please understand, if you appoint a climate-change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency and walk America away from the Paris accord, which committed 190 countries to reduce their emissions of the carbon dioxide pollutants that warm the planet, you will trigger a ferocious reaction by young people in America and across Europe. The backlash in Europe will totally undermine your ability to lead the Western alliance.
And as the climate physicist Joe Romm put it to me, do you really want to risk “going down in history as the man who killed the world’s last, best chance to avoid catastrophic warming”?
There is a better way — for you. You can frame the entire shift in your position in terms of free-market economics.
Hal Harvey, who advises major companies on climate and energy policy, notes that thanks to technological advances, “the cost of solar energy has dropped more than 80 percent since 2008, wind costs dropped more than 50 percent since 2008, battery costs dropped more than 70 percent since 2008, and LED lighting costs dropped more than 90 percent since 2008. As a result, a clean future now costs less than a dirty one.”
Today, from California to Mexico to the Middle East, solar and wind prices are as low as 3 cents a kilowatt-hour. Added Harvey: “That compares to about 6 cents for a new natural gas power plant, and double that for new coal. And remember: Commodity costs — coal, oil, gas — fluctuate, but technology costs — wind, solar, LEDs — follow irreversible trends downward, and so when a new technology crosses the cost line with an old commodity, it’s goodbye to the old commodity for good.”
Have you seen the pictures from New Delhi and Beijing lately? People there can’t breathe, owing to the pollution from burning crops and fossil fuels. So what are the Indians doing? They’re curbing the burning of crops, the use of diesel cars, and they just shut down the coal-based Badarpur power plant. They have to find alternatives to fossil fuels. So they’re investing heavily in clean tech.
Is your strategy to keep America addicted to coal and scuttle our lead in clean tech — which is destined to become the next great global export industry and is already spawning good blue-collar jobs — so we can import clean energy systems from India and China?
Mr. Trump, you won Florida, but do you know who lost there besides Hillary? Old-line utilities. They spent over $20 million pushing a referendum intended to curb the growth of solar energy in the state.
So Floridians said “yes” to Trump, “yes” to solar energy and “no” to those who wanted to stop both. There is a message for you in that bottle.
Thomas Friedman writes for The New York Times.