Trump undermines solar power, but that hasn’t saved coal

trump coal jobs

Trump undermines solar power at the peril of us all.

By Lynn Hamilton

United States President Donald Trump has devastated the solar industry in America without bringing back coal jobs.

You may remember that Trump allied himself with coal during his run up to the presidency. And coal families gave him their unthinking votes.

This is personal for me because I live in Kentucky, and I taught for two years in eastern Kentucky. During that time, I received numerous papers from students about job loss in their families due to the failure of coal. The tone of these papers was always a mixture of victim mentality, nostalgia, and blame.

Trouble was: they didn’t always know who to blame. Former President Barack Obama figured as a convenient scapegoat because of his modest federal incentives for renewable energy. And his insistence that the coal industry moderate its damage to the environment. He gave sustainability a fighting chance, in other words.

Trump undermines solar power while coal miners die of black lung

black lung

But the real reason the coal industry is dying is the same reason whale oil went down as an industry: We’re running out of coal, just as we ran out of whales. Secondarily, both industries are far too dangerous to the front line workers, and

healthy lung

coal cannot be harvested without the same measure of cruelty as was exercised in the mass murder of whales. Just ask anyone whose community was devastated by mountain top removal. Ultimately, coal is an unsustainable

resource for energy.

We need to unmuddle some thinking here: Bashing solar has not brought back coal jobs and will not bring back coal jobs. Coal jobs have steadily declined since 2005. Trump undermines solar power at the peril of us all, because we are running out of coal without a plan B for keeping the lights on.

The national media has not come right out and said that the loss of ten thousand jobs in solar last year is the fault of Donald Trump, but to use a trope from John Oliver:

It is.

It totally is.

Solar companies, large and small, were already nervous when Trump was elected. The threat of tariffs shook the confidence of the industry until the reality of tariffs replaced it. The loss of federal incentives for energy improvements also played its part.

Let’s recap why this matters to animals, particularly wildlife. Coal burning causes carbon dioxide emissions which cause climate change. Climate change is the main reason for mass extinctions of wildlife. Climate change is the main reason that monarch butterflies are declining in numbers. Climate change, among other things, messes with migration. Birds and monarch butterflies can’t figure out when to migrate because weather patterns are so disrupted. Cool autumns whisper “Time to fly” to the hummingbird. When the fall comes with eighty degree temperatures in the Midwest, the birds get confused.

Solar energy disrupts climate change. It does not emit carbon dioxide, therefore it does not make climate change worse. When solar replaces coal, it has the potential to reverse the damaging effects of climate change which include wildlife loss.

Even if you don’t care about wildlife, you should care about solar energy and the solar industry. At least if you care about having your television and laptop turned on. We’re running out of coal without having smoothed the way for a replacement source of energy. This is what happens when you mythologize a fuel like coal instead of viewing it as something that was useful in its day.