Friedman: Coal museum sees future; Trump doesn’t

Did you catch this gem on from April 6? “The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, owned by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, is switching to solar power to save money. … Communications director Brandon Robinson told CNN affiliate WYMT that the project ‘will help save at least eight to 10 thousand dollars, off the energy costs on this building alone.’”

Go figure. The museum is going solar, for solid economic reasons, and President Donald Trump is reviving coal, with no economic logic at all. This bizarre contrast speaks to a deeper question of leadership and how we judge presidents.

Trump took two major national security decisions in the past few weeks. One was to strike Syria for using poison gas. Trump summoned his national security team, asked for options, chose the cruise-missile strike — which was right — and won praise for acting “presidential.”

The other decision you didn’t see. It was Trump dismantling budgets and regulations undergirding U.S. climate and environmental protection policies — in his nutty effort to revive U.S. coal-fired energy — while quietly announcing plans to withhold a promised $32.5 million U.S. contribution for the U.N. Population Fund, which supports family planning and maternal health.

Trump made the second move without seeking a comprehensive briefing from experts and without ever asking for an intelligence briefing on how the combination of climate change, environmental degradation, drought and population explosions helped trigger the civil war in Syria, spawn terrorist groups like Boko Haram and become the main force pushing tens of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa into Europe each year, and from Central America up to the U.S.

I promise you that Trump will spend the rest of his presidency dealing with the disruptions caused by this cocktail of population explosion and climate/environmental degradation — and his generals know it. But in today’s politics, bombing is considered presidential and ignoring science and defunding family planning are back-page news.

Since Trump seems to be pivoting from some of his campaign nonsense, one can only hope he will do the same on these issues. If Trump is looking for a blueprint, he could not do better than to read a smart new book, “Climate of Hope,” by a most unlikely duo: former Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

When the Sierra Club and Bloomberg started in 2011, there were 514 coal-fired power plants in America; since then, 254 have announced they will shut down. They expect that fully two-thirds will be phased out by 2022 — no matter what Trump says or does.

“Climate of Hope” is about how to build on this.

Imagine, Pope said, that every U.S. company joined Anheuser-Busch in committing to getting all of its electricity from renewable sources. Imagine that instead of subsidizing surplus cotton, destroying the livelihoods of small farmers in Africa, the U.S. government subsidized our farmers to grow crops that restore carbon and store water in their soils, thus drought-proofing Texas and California.

Imagine that instead of vowing to bring back coal mining jobs, our president offered to link West Virginia and the nation’s most prosperous metropolitan economy — Washington, D.C. — with high-speed rail service.

Imagine … we could actually make America great again, not just prolong a dying coal industry! Now that would be presidential.

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