Is the world changing?

Is the world changing?

Love him or loath him, infamous climate scientist Dr Michael Mann recently made an important point about Donald Trump’s rhetoric on bringing manufacturing industry back to make the US great again.

On the America Adapts podcast Mann suggests that to achieve such a goal, manufacturing in the US must embrace the energy revolution. Implying factories running on fossil fuel energy will not be competitive in a global market.

The only way a fossil fuel based industry would be competitive is if there were trade restrictions and tariffs to keep them competitive. This makes Trump’s anti-trade agreement gambit a typical business bully approach to finding a competitive edge that, in this case, US manufacturers would not have.

The evidence is that the energy revolution is well advanced. All over the world technologies are maturing rapidly to deliver distributed clean energy. It is realistic to believe the many mayors and governors that claim carbon neutrality for their towns and jurisdictions when their constituents are all up for a Tesla wall.

Today’s first graders, who will consume a fair amount of electricity in their lifetimes, may not know or care, but most of that energy will not come from a coal-fired power station.

This change from fossil fuel to alternative energy and the accompanying shift from centralised to distributed generation is exactly the one that was needed to tackle the climate issues Michael Mann is so passionate about. Only it is happening because it makes economic sense and not because of a limp international agreement made in a Japanese city or from late night breakthroughs in Paris.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The change is happening certainly. Only it is happening because the technology is becoming commercially competitive. So competitive in fact, that a US president is elected on the back of rhetoric to prop up his countries uncompetitive energy system and hold on to the past.

Does all this mean that the world is changing? Not really. Those first graders, who will spend more of their lives looking at a screen than the trees, may notice more wind farms and will drive an electric car they plug into ports on the street to share the energy captured from the roof at home. But they will also be fiercely competitive and, just like their parents and grand pappy, rely on markets to deliver their lifestyle.

They will work, eat, sleep, and procreate with their mobile device never more than an arm’s length away. They will earn money and use it to pay for their data plans. Not much will be different…

Unless, just maybe, perhaps, possibly…

All this distributed energy makes everything easier, and the system changes. If stuff gets cheaper and cheaper, maybe value is recognised in what people do and not what they have.

Here’s hoping.

President Trump — the shock we had to have

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In 1990, Paul Keating, as Treasurer in the Hawke government, famously described the 1990s recession in Australia as “the recession we had to have” to correct a series of excesses through the 1980’s. Keating challenged Bob Hawke for the leadership of the Labor Party in 1991 and became Prime Minister of Australia.

This week the American people, via a slim minority, voted Donald Trump into the Presidency of the United States.

It is the shock they (and we) had to have.

What happened is that a nation of educated folk just put a narcissistic isolationist with little respect for anyone but himself and no experience of public office into the highest position in the land. Is this man really the best person from among the 322 million or so options?

You would have to think not. There had to be someone better, although not the democratic candidate apparently.

So what is going on?

There are a large number of people who now have no faith in the system of government to improve their lot. Median income in the US is now $30,525 up just $1,113 since 2000, less than 4% in over a decade. Average wages for those without a college degree in the US have declined over the same period and the number without a job has increased. Meantime median house prices have doubled to $304,800.

A xenophobic return to the old days was a message people wanted to hear.

There are some bigger picture numbers too. A growing disparity in wealth due as much to concentration into the few wealthy as to the loss of earnings among workers. A high risk of GFC 2.0 despite the national debt ballooning to $19.8 trillion raised ostensibly to stave off such a catastrophe. A law making establishment that is out of touch.

Check out the US national debt clock

But these individual and economic symptoms are best seen through the lens of what brought them about. Slavish adherence to the market and its fixation with growth, neo-liberalism it’s called.

Ironically Trump is going to be the messenger that demonstrates this slavish adherence is untenable. Because he will not be able to deliver on most of his promises. Given the debt, wealth concentration and stagnant growth, the system cannot afford his tax cuts, wall construction or restricted trade.

Imagine halving corporate tax when the country carries more debt than its GDP.

If he insists on keeping his promises the fragile economy collapses. If he relents, the people are let down (again). Either way, there is a jolt to the system. An opportunity is created for genuine progressive change.

There is a reason this feels like much more than trying to find a silver lining in a dark misogynistic cloud.

On the night before the US election I attended a public function in Sydney under the 100 Resilience Cities program. The theme was ‘Is Sydney ready? Working together for a resilient city’ and even a confirmed skeptic like myself would have to say, yes.

Because for the first time it became clear to me what resilience is. It is the ability of people to connect with each other across the barriers we all erect to find common ground and support. Throughout the evening there was evidence of people doing this more and more. Just the recognition that resilience is all about people is huge.

And this is the real change that can truly help those who voted for the orange guy. Where people actually talk to each other, find things they agree on, accept the things they cannot agree on, and build things together.

It will happen.

Donald is the shock we need to make it so.