The selection of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state should be the final eye-opener that the 2016 election was fundamentally about energy all along. Minnesotans should be worried about what President-elect Donald Trump’s oil minions will do to our state’s evolving green energy economy and outlook.
But first, some fun facts. Does anybody really wonder why Vladimir Putin and his internet Gestapo interfered in the U.S. election? In the Russia of Putin’s kleptocracy, there is but one big money-maker — natural resources, chief among them oil and natural gas. President Obama’s sanctions crimped those riches. Hillary Clinton would have continued those policies. So Putin played secret Santa to Donald Trump’s election and in return Trump is dancing to Putin’s oily tune.
This non-mystery turns to tragedy where U.S. coal workers are concerned. Trump mercilessly played on their very real fears that the coal era has ended. It has ended, and the primary reason is not regulation but cheap fracked natural gas and cheap wind and solar. One candidate had a detailed plan to actually help coal country: Hillary Clinton, who proposed funding the pensions of miners deserted by bankrupt employers and retrain them for green energy economy. Trump offered them hot air.
The election is also a run-the-table victory for the Koch brothers’ fossil-fueled empire. Under the fraudulent mask of conservatism, they have succeeded in positioning anti-climate science as a linchpin of conservative dogma and Republican party policy. Prior to the 2000 election, anti-science was never a conservative outlook. But in full alarm at the candidacy of Al “Earth in the Balance” Gore, who literally wrote the book on climate change, the fossil fuel industry rose up to kill his election by pouring vast sums into perennially Democratic West Virginia, winning a “coal-fired” victory, as Republican operatives crowed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.
The Koch-funded anti-science assault has been at work ever since, even in Minnesota, where we just elected or re-elected three climate science deniers. Affable Tom Emmer and seemingly sensible Eric Paulson clam up when the subject is raised, fearing a Koch-financed attack from the right, while newly-elected conservative ideologue Jason Lewis spouts anti-climate science as a feature of his conservative creed.
Hand it to the Koch brothers; their nearly two decades of propaganda against climate science is as effective as it is shameful, like the anti-science campaign of the tobacco industry that fought off regulation of cancer-causing tobacco for 30 years. And the assault on science is pure self-interest, fueled by massive pipeline profits. True conservatives have been as suckered by the Koch brothers as Trump has been by Putin.
Back to Tillerson, who ironically may offer science-minded citizens a ray of hope. He has said in the past that the best way to deal with climate change is through a carbon tax, a sensible stance that “reflects the cost of carbon in all economic decisions.” The Breitbart right is already apoplectic about his appointment. That’s a small something to cheer about.
James P. Lenfestey is a former editorial writer for the Star Tribune who focused on energy and education.