Earthquake America… all is not lost

It has been a while since I checked out the websites of America’s legion of ‘Last Days’ believers. Rapture Ready and Apocalypse Soon always offered a unique take on the more pressing problems of the day. Many contributors were not climate change deniers…they just wanted to bring it on faster. Environmental disasters were reported, recorded…and celebrated. Any progress towards the End of Days was to be welcomed.

However, believers in ‘the Rapture’ – overly represented in the US Congress and Senate – faced a problem on which they were theologically stuck. The end of world could only come after the arrival of the Antichrist. And no one could agree who that was.

Hopes were pinned on an interesting list of ‘favourites’. Fidel Castro, the Clintons, Obama and Saddam Hussein all had their moment as front runners. All disappointed. Even Spain’s Prince Juan Carlos and Britain’s Prince Charles made mysterious, occasional appearances on the list of ‘hopefuls’. None delivered. But now the movement has Trump. Hopes are again flying high.

Armageddon and its alternatives.

President-elect Trump promised to suck-soot with the Devil. Coal will be back in business, Fracking given permission to open the Gates of Hell, and all those namby-pamby, climate-saving plans of Obama Democrats will all be flushed down the pan. Surely only the Antichrist could kindle such hopes of Armageddon?

If this prospect doesn’t reassure the 55% of younger people who voted for a different America – and the millions of multi-faith, progressive, racially-diverse Americans who joined them – then maybe it’s time for a Plan B (or C). At leat two options stand out from the election outcome maps.

The electoral college that gave Trump his majority paints the picture of a fragmented, divided country. Nothing would seem to connect the segmented Democratic parts of the Disunited States. But this is an incomplete map. I remember seeing a different one.

Following the ‘hanging chads’ election of George W Bush, I saw a map outlining the whole physicality that is North America. It made the case for a new constitutional settlement; the creation of another country – the United States of Canada.

This was a way of linking progressive voices in both the East and West coasts to the saner ‘whole’ that is Canada. The idea would obviously have to be run past Canadians first, but would avoid the ‘Migrate to Canada’ website crashing in the middle of the night (as it did once a Trump victory became clear).

There would also need to be complicated discussions with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois to see if they wanted to join the party. And maybe Colorado and New Mexico would want ‘Hawaii’ status within the new configuration. Trump, then, could build a different, much bigger, wall around God’s Chosen Country. An army of Rapture Ready volunteers might even flock to build it.

If this is a step too far for Democrats and optimists then another possibility leaps out just as easily.

The more detailed map of voting patterns shows a majority of US towns and cities voted for the Democrats. A huge slice of these form part of the 2,000 cities in which over 48 million Americans currently get their energy from local municipal energy companies. Many will also be partners within the Global Covenant of Mayors and Leaders of over 7,000 towns and cities – representing over 600 million people worldwide – that formed itself this summer. These pledged to become the leaders of a clean-energy revolution that may yet save the planet.

The unstoppable revolution

Progressive Americans may not have to look for another country to live in, just another context in which to define solidarity (and sanity). While the Democratic Party sets off on the long road to rediscover and rescue its soul, the rest might prefer to concentrate on the lesser task of saving the planet. It would immediately take them into a different sort of politics.

Fossil-fuel lobbyists are currently buying up all the votes on Capitol Hill they can muster – hoping to scupper the Paris Agreement and Obama’s Clean Power Plan. But clean energy is an unstoppable revolution.

The same forces that transformed telecommunications are doing the same to energy. Old Energy knows the sound of the death-rattle coming from its innards. Their life support machine – of public subsidies, tax breaks and write-offs – is running out of juice.

Given the choice, towns cities and communities are shifting into ‘smart’. And what ‘smart’ means seems to expand by the day. Cities are reclaiming ownership of their local energy grids, delivering their own energy security and massively reducing their carbon footprint. Debates are no longer about single technology sources, but how clean technologies ‘dance’ together. Even villages are joining in.

The German village of Wilpoldsreid has 11 wind turbines, 5 bio-gas plants, a hydro-power plant, 5MWp of photovoltaics… and produces 500% of its energy needs. The answer to their ‘problem of excess’ is found in the nearby town of Erlangen, where Siemens built a state-of-the-art ‘energy management centre’ that stores, balances and shares the clean-energy flows.

An economics of ‘less’

Others, in both the USA and Europe, have been changing the regulatory framework of local Grids; giving the consumption of ‘less’, priority over the production of more. A whole new economics – of energy efficiency programmes, demand reduction measures, and the skill-sets and jobs that go with them – emerges as a result. Burgeoning growth in today’s energy storage sector is already driving into the arena of clean air as well as clean energy.

Norway and the Netherlands have set mid-2020 dates for the end of fossil-fuel vehicle production. The German Lander (with quiet endorsement from car manufacturers) have asked their federal government to make this an EU target for the mid-2030s. London already has more electric vehicle charging points than filling stations. On the back of citizen movements demanding ‘air fit to breathe’, clean energy cities are about to proliferate. Clean re-charging will be everywhere. Trump (and the Beverly Hillbillies) will find themselves marooned in a different era.

America can re-found (re-find) itself in this space, but it must move beyond Trump to do so. Those currently demonstrating on the streets, proclaiming ‘Trump is not my President’ must themselves become the proposition rather than the opposition. It means being the alternative that leaves Trump behind. And none of this requires anyone to be a whiz-kid or technology genius. It can begin from the inspirationally ordinary.

This summer, in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh, 800,000 volunteers planted 50 million trees … in a single day. Americans could do the same. In such a simple gesture, citizens (wherever they live) could make one of the most profound, turning-point statements of our time; that a tree brings with it so much more humanity than a wall.

This is the space beyond Trump. It is where hope lives.

Alan Simpson

Nov 13 2016

(Alan is the Shadow Chancellor’s Advisor on Sustainable Economics. Prior to this he was an MP for 18 years and an energy and climate campaigner for even longer).

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