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Power Player

Trump goes to Paris?

Sustainability needs a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

Last week, in my column 50 Shades of Brown, I posited that the sustainability community needs Nixon-goes-to-China-like disruptive leadership in order to catalyze the kind of nonlinear, exponential rate of shift to clean energy that we need in order to save the planet.

Now that Donald Trump is closing in on being the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, could he be that unexpected leader?

Could we be in for, metaphorically, a Trump-goes-to-Paris moment?

Unlikely? To be sure.

Crazy? Maybe not.

Let’s work it through.

Here is a 2015 Trump comment on climate change:

[W]e’ve had times where the weather wasn’t working out, so they changed it to extreme weather, and they have all different names, you know, so that it fits the bill. ... So I am not a believer, and I will, unless somebody can prove something to me, I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again. And it changes depending on years and centuries, but I am not a believer, and we have much bigger problems.

Trump, for good measure, also has called global warming a problem "created by and for the Chinese."

I am no Trumpologist, but I have watched a few debates and some of his interviews and have noticed that when Candidate Trump doesn’t want to talk about an issue, he blusters incoherently until the questioner moves on to a different topic. As blustering incoherently is what anyone who intentionally or unintentionally conflates weather with climate (or considers global warming a Chinese plot) is doing, it leads me to believe he doesn't want to talk about climate. And the normally voluble Trump only doesn't want to talk about issues that he either knows he knows nothing about or to which his position is inconsistent with Republican Party orthodoxy.

And therein lies the hope for a (President) Trump Goes to Paris in-office conversion.

A descent into dysfunction

Like almost every other CEO I know, I have watched the long descent of the American political system into gridlocked dysfunction over the past 20 years with extreme dismay and wistfully thought that the election to president of a ridiculously successful, obviously capable, high-profile CEO would re-establish the missing center of the American political spectrum. A CEO president, in my imagination, would bust the hoary boundaries of Democratic and Republican Party dogma tilting towards the Democratic Party position on immigration, social issues and inclusivity and towards the Republican positions on trade, regulation, taxes and economics. With respect to the paramount issue of climate change, I was confident that a CEO president, knowledgeable or well-briefed on the facts and the dire ecological risks entailed, would be our Climate Advocate-in-Chief.

Then again, I assumed if we were to have a CEO president, it would be Michael Bloomberg, the gold standard when it comes to climate advocacy, or maybe JPMorganChase CEO Jamie Dimon, an eminently rational and practical man. Never would I have imagined that our first CEO president might be Donald Trump.

Yet, is it impossible to imagine that the king of conspicuous consumption as a businessman might become the king of conspicuous sustainability as a political leader?

Is it impossible to imagine that the king of conspicuous consumption as a businessman might become the king of conspicuous sustainability as a political leader?

I look for clues (and hope) in a non-politician-turned-politician's life experience. In this regard, I am heavily influenced by an exchange I had a few years ago with then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He recently had reintroduced into the California Legislature a bill that had been soundly defeated, notwithstanding his sponsorship, the previous year. I asked him why he now risked being beaten twice, a risk most normal politicians would not take.

His answer was direct and strongly delivered. He said it was because he still had the mentality of the champion body builder he once was. In body building, he noted, if you failed at lifting a particular weight, you didn't run away. You went back and tried again and again until you achieved your goal. That was his approach to legislative strategy.

Applying the Schwarzenegger Logic to President Trump, I deem the essence of his business career is that he is, at heart, a builder even more than being a deal maker. He likes to build "fabulous" things that he is then proud to put his name on.

OK, we can work with that. If he is elected, we’ll need to work with that.

Trump Trestles?

We will need to persuade our builder president that our built environment will be all the more magnificent with gleaming solar panels on every roof and fabulous wind farms punctuating the dreary landscape of our far-away places. Maybe we can have solar scaffolds over every parking lot that can be called "Trump Trestles," all built in America by American workers to harness a quintessentially American energy resource, our wind and sun. Remember, Donald Trump, unlike some candidates he is facing, is not beholden to the fossil-fuel energy industry.

Maybe he can be convinced that having his name on structures all across America, delivering clean energy and jobs to millions of Americans, is a better, richer personal legacy, offering greater glory when the history books are written about how we won the 21st century fight against climate change.

It beats, after all, having your name on a wall.

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