Donald Trump’s extraordinary election has upended established expectations for the political agenda in every area, and nowhere is that more true than with climate and energy policy. Where will Trump and his team come down on climate? There is fevered speculation across the spectrum, with predictions ranging from Armageddon to salvation, but the truth is that no one knows how things will shake out in the end—perhaps not even the President-elect.
It has always seemed odd that the ultimate power of man over nature—science—is supposed to be what will preserve the naturalness of the environment.
Last time we celebrated Earth Day, President Obama had no doubts when he told the “science guy” Bill Nye that it is “part of our constitutional duty” to promote science for the environment. “I’m not a scientist either, but I know a lot of scientists,” said the President. “I have the capacity to understand science. I have the capacity to look at facts and base my conclusions on evidence.”
Alexis de Tocqueville distills the lesson of the fourth chapter of Democracy in America with his usual epigrammatic power:
The people rule the American political world as God rules the universe. They are the cause and end of all things; everything arises from them and everything is absorbed by them.
What Tocqueville found remarkable in 1830s America was that the “principle of the sovereignty of the people” was neither “hidden” nor “sterile.” Rather, contrary to practice in the rest of the world, “it is recognized by the mores, proclaimed by the laws; it spreads freely and reaches its fullest consequences without obstacles.”
Could an impartial observer say the same today?