President Trump could win big on infrastructure – if he rethinks his stance on climate change

President Trump eliminating some regulations on the mining industry. So, yay. Image: Getty.

Disaster was narrowly averted on 12 February, after America’s tallest dam threatened to release a deluge of water over thousands of homes. Dramatic scenes of water cascading from the Oroville dam emerged after a hole the size of a football field appeared in the spillway floor, allowing water to rip through its foundations and compromise the whole structure. Authorities ordered 180,000 people to evacuate while the water level was lowered to relieve pressure on the damaged spillway. But 48 hours later, the immediate danger had passed and residents were allowed to return home.

This near catastrophe is just the latest symptom of the chronic ill-health of America’s civil infrastructure, which has suffered from decades of under-investment and neglect. But the Oroville dam crisis could provide an unexpected opportunity for the new Trump administration to take on both problems – and win.

Winning is important to the US president, Donald Trump. This is not in dispute. He has built his name, his fame and his entire presidential campaign on being seen to be a winner. In office, he has been quick to reject situations where there is no easy win in sight: from his opposition to the environmental lobby, to his dislike of multilateral trade deals and his “shut up shop” attitude on migration.

But when it comes to infrastructure, the win is clear to see: stuff is broken, stuff can be fixed by good, honest blue-collar workers driving proper US-made machines. These things can be paid for using money – and money is what Trump knows about. New roads, new jobs, a New Deal even – these all look like wins for a relentlessly ambitious president.


What’s the damage?

But renewing the nation’s failing infrastructure is not a simple process, as successive White House administrations have found. Up to $1trn is required to repair or replace ageing dams, bridges, highways and all the other components that support modern civilisation. Where to source the money has been a subject of political wrangling for decades.

Arguments between state and federal administrations, fuelled by political in-fighting and lobbyists – including environmentalists who are opposed to big infrastructure on principle – have all contributed to the stasis. But with a new strategy, Trump might just be able to score a big win where other presidents have lost out.

For water infrastructure, such as Oroville dam, perhaps the most obvious part of the problem is the weather. After five years of extreme drought, this winter has brought record rainfalls. Just prior to the crisis, the Oroville reservoir and others like it were at more than 150 per cent of their normal capacity.

Full to overflowing. Image: Monica M Davey/EPA.

Under these conditions, every storm becomes a challenge for water resource engineers. But what has this got to do with Trump’s infrastructure promise? Year-on-year variations in seasonal weather are highly unpredictable. But in the longer term, atmospheric rivers (a key factor in Californian climate) and similar extreme weather events are robustly predicted to increase in frequency as the global climate warms. The strong balance of scientific evidence and opinion suggests that greenhouse gas emitters worldwide are at least partially responsible: particularly in the US and China, which together generate a third of world emissions

The denier’s dilemma

This presents Trump the climate change denier with a dilemma. To get the win on infrastructure, he needs money. To get the money in a reasonable time frame, he will need corporate investors who are prepared to cut through the political deadlock. But investors require incentives to channel funds into long-term public works, for which Trump will claim the bulk of the credit. And market economics suggests that if there was any money in it for them, this would already be happening.

The Oroville dam, though, demonstrates that some of the largest imminent threats to infrastructure will increase through climate change. If Trump could take an executive decision to shift his position on that – surely not hard for someone who deals so readily in “alternative facts” – then a pathway to the win could open up.

Keen for a win. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/Wikimedia commons.

Apportioning blame for carbon emissions could bolster his case for tariffs and other sanctions on Chinese imports. A similar economic stick for domestic polluters would be less palatable, but the money raised could be used to provide corporations with financial incentives to invest in maintaining infrastructure, expanding renewables and adopting green, energy-efficient technology. All these projects promise long-term gains for US businesses and jobs, if only the initial inertia could be overcome. Carbon reduction tariffs, linked specifically to infrastructure renewal incentives, could provide that vital momentum.

Such ideas have been around for decades: environmental thinkers including Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins espouse the notion of “natural capitalism” – a market-driven economics which centres on the value of natural resources. The Oroville dam provides compelling evidence of the hard economic costs of inaction on infrastructure.

Accepting man-made climate change could provide Trump with a chance to deliver on one of his major campaign promises, change the face of capitalism and perhaps even save the world along the way. Doesn’t that look like a win? The Conversation

Jonathan Bridge is a senior lecturer in physical geography at Sheffield Hallam University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Brexit is an opportunity for cities to take back control

Leeds Town Hall. Image: Getty.

The Labour leader of Leeds City Council on the future of Britain’s cities.

As the negotiations about the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU continue, Britain’s most economically powerful cities outside London are arguing that the UK can be made stronger for Brexit – by allowing cities to “take back control” of service provision though new powers and freedoms

Core Cites UK, the representative voice of the cities at the centre of the ten largest economic areas outside London, has just launched an updated version of our green paper, ‘Invest Reform Trust’. The document calls for radical but deliverable proposals to allow cities to prepare for Brexit by boosting their productivity, and helping to rebalance the economy by supporting inclusive economic growth across the UK.

Despite representing areas responsible for a quarter of the UK’s economy and nearly a third of exports, city leaders have played little part in the development of the government’s approach to Brexit. Cities want a dialogue with the government on their Brexit plans and a new settlement which sees power passing from central government to local communities.

To help us deliver a Brexit that works for the UK’s cities, we are opening a dialogue with the EU Commission’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier to share our views of the Brexit process and what our cities want to achieve.

Most of the changes the Core Cities want to see can already be delivered by the UK. To address the fact that the productivity of UK cities lags behind competitors, we need to think differently and begin to address the structural problems in our economy before Brexit.

International evidence shows that cities which have the most control over taxes raised in their area tend to be the most productive.  The UK is significantly out of step with international competitors in the power given to cities and we are one of the most centralised countries in the world.  


Boosting the productivity of the UK’s Core Cities to the UK national average would increase the country’s national income by £70-£90bn a year. This would be a critical boost to the UK’s post-Brexit economic success.

Our green paper is clear that one-size fits all policy solutions simply can’t deal with the complexities of 21st century Britain. We need a place-based approach that looks at challenges and solutions in a different way, focused on the particular needs of local communities and local economies.

For example, our Core Cities face levels of unemployment higher than the national average, but also face shortages of skilled workers.  We need a more localised approach to skills, education and employment support with greater involvement from local democratic and business leaderships to deliver the skills to support growth in each area.

The UK will only make a success of Brexit if we are able to increase our international trade. Evidence shows city to city networks play an important role in boosting international trade.  The green paper calls for a new partnership with the Department of International trade to develop an Urban Trade programme across the UK’s cities and give cities more of a role in international trade missions.

To deliver economic growth that includes all areas of the UK, we also need to invest in our infrastructure. Not just our physical infrastructure of roads, rail telecommunications and so forth, but also our health, education and care infrastructure, ensuring that we are able to unlock the potential of our core assets, our people.

Whether you think that Brexit is a positive or a negative thing for the UK, it is clear that the process will be a challenging one.  Cities have a key role to play in delivering a good Brexit: one that sees local communities empowered and economic prosperity across all areas of the UK.

Cllr Judith Blake is leader of Leeds City Council.