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Trump’s “Backward-Looking” Speech Ignores Climate Change, While Pushing for “Beautiful, Clean Coal”

StoryJanuary 31, 2018
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On Tuesday night at President Trump’s first State of the Union, there were two words conspicuously missing from Trump’s lengthy address: climate change. Trump did, however, celebrate “beautiful, clean coal” and the rollback of key regulations to protect the environment. For more on the State of the Union, we speak with 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and with The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman, as we spend the hour looking at President Trump’s first State of the Union, President Trump referring to the extreme weather events that hit the U.S. last year, but never mentioning the words “climate change” during his speech.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have endured floods and fires and storms, but, through it all, we have seen the beauty of America’s soul and the steel in America’s spine.

AMY GOODMAN: While President Trump never actually mentioned climate change, he had this to say about coal.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump apparently added the word “beautiful” to “clean coal,” because the transcript that was sent around did not say “beautiful.”

Well, joining us now, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org. Today he’s taking part in an event in Washington, D.C., called Climate State of the Union, with Vermont senator, former presidential candidate—we’ll see if he’s a future presidential candidate—Senator Bernie Sanders.

Bill McKibben, welcome to Democracy Now! Your response to the State of the Union last night?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, as you said, he barely mentioned or didn’t mention what’s probably the single biggest problem facing the planet. That’s because he doesn’t think it’s a problem. The president is under the illusion that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

The stuff about coal was—I mean, by this point, everybody knows that “clean coal” is an oxymoron. The “beautiful, clean coal” part was strange. It kind of betrays an impoverished fantasy life or something. I don’t know.

But maybe the scariest part was lauding ExxonMobil for its plans to invest another $50 billion building yet more pipelines and yet more fossil fuel infrastructure in this country. That’s clearly where President Trump wants to take us. It’s clearly flying in the face not only of climate change, but of the economics of energy, which wants to send us straight in the direction of sun and wind. This was a very, very backward-looking speech, not only on immigration, which was horrible to hear, but also on these questions about the future of our economy and our energy life.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, talking about the future, you were just here in New York a few weeks ago with Naomi Klein, standing next to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Can you talk about the significance of what happened?

BILL McKIBBEN: Yeah. And actually, this is the kind of important pivot here. I mean, when we do this big event tonight, this live stream that we’re calling Fossil Free Fast, one of the things we’ll be pointing out is: We can’t make the future we need in Washington right now. There’s no hope of getting good legislation through Congress anytime soon. So we have to go elsewhere, to cities and states.

New York City was a huge step along that path, when, earlier this month, it announced that it was divesting $200 billion in pension funds from the fossil fuel industry and that it was going to sue the five biggest oil companies for the damage that they’ve done to that city and everyplace else on the planet. It was a really striking moment. And there will be many, many more of those moments, going forward, because cities and states are going to have to step up and fill the vacuum that President Trump—and, really, all of Washington—is leaving at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: After President Trump spoke last night, Senator Bernie Sanders recorded his own response to the State of the Union.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: During the campaign, Donald Trump told us, quote, “The rich will not be gaining at all,” end of quote, under his tax reform plan. “The rich will not be gaining at all.” Well, that was quite a whopper. As president, the tax reform legislation Trump signed into law a few weeks ago provides 83 percent of the benefits to the top 1 percent, drives up the deficit by $1.7 trillion and raises taxes on 92 million middle-class families by the end of the decade.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Sanders. The official Democratic response was Congressmember Joe Kennedy III. But what Bernie Sanders is saying and what he’s doing tonight, with Bill McKibben and others, the significance of his voice right now, just to explain, Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: So, of course, Bernie Sanders has a significant voice, coming off the campaign of 2016. But I think what Bill said is so important. What’s happening in cities and states, both elected leaders and movement activists, we are seeing the resurgence not only of citizen engagement and activism, but getting things done, whether it’s California or New York City, but also Arcadia, Jackson Mississippi. There’s a lot going on in this country.

And I think what Bernie Sanders is showing the way is, Democrats can’t simply, though they must, expose Trump’s bait-and-switch on working people, the tax scam, but they need to lay out a bold, clear alternative agenda, a kind of social contract for the 21st century. Trump last night had the chutzpah to talk about a 21st century immigration plan. As Bill said so well, what we heard last night was retro, was ugly nostalgia for a country that isn’t going to come back to coal. And tell a kid with asthma about “beautiful, clean coal.” What we need are new pathways forward, humane, serious, and working with citizens and working with activists.

So, I think there’s a real possibility. The bad news is, Trump is president. The good news is, as Bernie Sanders said the other day, we’ve seen a revitalization of democracy and citizen activism. And people running for office, Amy, for the first time in years, people who never thought of it, want to change and take control of this country again.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Bill McKibben, in two seconds we have left, the event that’s happening tonight, if people can’t go directly, you’re doing it online?

BILL McKIBBEN: It’ll be live in Washington and then online. And I’ll say, when Bernie gets up to speak, I’ll be thinking, in the back of my head, it wouldn’t have taken too many twists of fate for him to have been giving the State of the Union address last night. We should keep in mind that he’s the most popular politician in America. So, there’s a lot to build on here, on climate, on immigration, on everything else.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, 350.org's Bill McKibben, The Nation magazine's Katrina vanden Heuvel, Maru Mora Villalpando, who was in Congress last night, Minnesota state Representative Ilhan Omar, and journalist Daniel Denvir. Thanks so much for joining us.

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