Trump’s attempt to pull the USA out of the Paris Agreement: a personal reaction from Solaraid  


I was barely listening as he delivered his speech. I had heard most of his mantras already. I also knew that he would be unable to complete a US pullout, legally, until his second term. And he surely can’t aspire to one of those now, with all the skeletons that are rattling in his closet. I was thinking instead about what people can do in the face of madness such as this.

One of the options is to focus on projects that demonstrate, in a way that is impossible to ignore, that he is wrong. And more, that the belief system he is a symptom of is wrong: rottenly, suicidally, wrong.

I stared at the little solar light on my desk as the President pursed his lips and blustered his distortions and lies. Nothing that I know of shows how wrong Trump is on energy more than that light. It captures the perversity of his world view in perfect miniature.

There are four main reasons why. First, it is a solar device that beats by a flying mile the fossil fuels that Trump and so many of his financial backers favour, simply on economics. In the developing world, where more than a billion people have no grid electricity, you can stand a solar light with its built-in photovoltaic cell in sunlight by day, creating electricity to store in the tiny battery inside, and in so doing cancel the need to burn oil in a kerosene lamp at night. In the process you save $70 on average each year. That’s a lot of money if you are on less than a dollar a day. It captures in microcosm the trillions of dollars that the world would save in the years ahead if we moved from oil and other fossil fuels to solar, batteries and other clean energy technologies.

But Trump loves oil. He has populated the White House with oil executives and lobbyists. He mocks solar. He does his level best to hold back the global energy transition.

Second, using this solar light has enormous health benefits over fossil fuels. With it, you breathe clean air in your home. Burn oil, or coal, and you add to the body count of the single biggest killer in the world, air pollution.

But Trump digs coal. He intends to stop the Environmental Protection Agency even monitoring the harm that burning it does.

Third, these lights create more jobs than equivalent fossil-fuel use ever could. Distributing them provides a lot of people with livelihoods.

Yet Trump wants to create new coal jobs, rather than figure out ways to help the mere 50,000 left in the US coal mining industry join the 370,000 already working in the US solar industry.

Fourth, using this light helps people in poor countries to make, and save money. It gets them on the energy ladder, on the road to economic development. It helps them help themselves. To escape risking those death boats foundering in the Mediterranean.

Think of it. If you are one of those billion-plus people who have no grid electricity, you have two options if you want to see at night. One is to spend tens of dollar a year on kerosene, candles, or battery torches. The other is to buy a solar light for $5 with a one-off payment, and save those tens of dollars. After paying back the $5, which you can do in a matter of weeks on kerosene costs avoided, you have free light for the three-plus years of a quality-verified product’s lifetime. You have a licence to scrape dollar bills off the ground by the handful every year.

But Trump seems utterly uninterested by such opportunities. He wants to keep the poorest of the poor poor. He proposes nothing to help them, meanwhile building walls to keep them out of his homeland. He wants America to turn in on itself, even to a new kind of despotism, if he can bully enough people into not opposing him as he brings it about.

I am lucky. I have a chance to show Trump how wrong he and his kind are. SolarAid, the charity I set up and part-fund with 5% of Solarcentury’s annual profits, has catalysed the first two solar light markets in Africa. We have sold nearly 2 million solar lights so far.

But here’s the thing that currently burns me up. The entire solar lighting industry, even in a world with more than a billion people devoid of access to grid electricity, has only sold at most 30 million quality-assured solar lights! Most of the billion people only have the kerosene option, because whereas the oil companies are good at getting kerosene distributed, the rest of the world has so far done a pretty dismal job of making solar lights available.

How terribly sad is that. And there is more. For the last year, global sales of solar lights have been falling. Falling steeply.

What are we doing wrong, collectively? How can it be that we have allowed the no-brainer social win that these solar lights represent largely to pass the poor by? How can the large-scale global solar market, which has grown every year for many decades, be rising so fast today, while the solar lighting market falls?

There are compound reasons, but they amount to a simple single overall narrative: collectively, we are not trying hard enough. And that is where my personal opportunity to make the Trumpistas see the light kicks in. I’m going to redouble my efforts to reverse the trend in solar light sales, both SolarAid’s and the global solar lighting industry’s. That’s one thing I can do, personally, to resist the Trumpist assault on reason. I invite anyone who wants to help me, in any way, to do so.

Individual soldiers contribute to the winning of wars by fierce involvement in individual engagements. There have to be many of them, if the war is to be won. I commend this particular engagement, to all busy people who side with the resistance.

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Appropriate civilization includes environmental balance, sustainable capitalism, empathic societies, racial and religious harmony, poverty alleviation at home and abroad, common security, and use of tech for social good.

New despotism includes environmental sabotage, reckless capitalism, isolationist nationalism, incitement to racial and religious hatred, retreat from aid, war mongering, and the use of tech for social harm.

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