Alexander Kaufman currently works for HuffPost as one of the top reporters covering climate, the environment and business where they intersect. Coming into this discussion from a business perspective roughly 4 years ago, Alexander became intrigued with the environmental implications that were being discussed in the boardrooms of American corporations. He became disenchanted with the notion that they might regulate themselves and shifted his focus to governmental regulatory policy.
I picked up on his enthusiasm for the potential in the energy sector for innovative solutions and pitfalls in the current administration’s trajectory. I was fortunate to be able to speak with him recently about his reporting, as he characterizes it, centering on “climate change, environmental policy and the politics of life on a warming planet.”
The evolution of Alexander’s interest in environmental issues has clarified his perspective of humanity’s fallible energy choices of the past through to the fortuitously critical options that will impact our immediate and long term collective future. Our interview took place mere hours before the recent release of the UN’s staggering climate report, the conclusion of which has come to be understood as implicating dire consequences for all living things on this planet if immediate measures which the committee implored are not heeded.
With the Trump administration’s recent interest in reviving the archaic cold war era Defense Production Act to nationalize coal plants thus preventing the shuttering of otherwise obsolete coal plants, Alexander sees this absurd proposition as a potential catalyst calling it “a gift for climate hawks.” He accurately points out that the coal industry is “employing very few people and is such a huge source of climate pollution.”
Despite the urgent tone of the conclusions in the UN’s recent climate report, Mr. Kaufman chastises policy makers within the Democratic Party that herald themselves as believers of climate change and its imminent danger yet offer inadequate solutions. Alexander states right now they are offering…[solutions…] “that are very conservative approaches, nowhere near close enough to what needs to happen in order to reduce emissions at the rate scientists say we need to in order to avert the very worst catastrophes to potentially avoid losing cities like Miami to sea level rise.”
In a recent article for HuffPost, Alexander wrote about the lost opportunity after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico for the territory to become a “Solar Pioneer” by implementing 21st century solutions. Instead, congressional Republicans were more interested in showcasing Puerto Rico as a “fossil fuel theme park” rather than the innovative approach towards replacement with clean, alternative, renewable energy sources which would prove more resilient in future natural disasters. Puerto Rico could have served as a living laboratory model for the future of climate friendly energy solutions. Alexander pointed out the implied practicality in that Puerto Rico is not capable of producing any of the fossil fuels which currently are burned in order to supply more than 97% of the island’s power needs. Additionally, he commented that “Puerto Rico is a place where the sun is always shining and where you have communities in the mountains where they would do wonderfully if they would just produce their own electricity from decentralized little solar farms and stored in batteries”. This would make much more practical sense than “having a rickety power distribution system that was designed in the 1950s”.
Alexander impressed upon me the importance of continuing to explore future technologies that are currently at our doorstep. One of the more tantalizing avenues of research is found within facilities like Oak Ridge National Lab where they study the physics of particles colliding at nearly speed of light. One might naturally what this has to do with solving our energy problems. “This type of testing is really critical to finding ways of making lithium batteries more effective. Lithium batteries are really important to renewable energy being more widely used.” In addition many spin offs will contribute to higher efficiencies from cancer research to aerodynamic design. Unfortunately, the Trump administration seems blind and deaf to the invaluable benefits to mankind this facility contributes. Instead, the President is more interested in shrinking the size of the federal government and consequently driving away top research scientists with his ambivalence. Alexander laments “When you have that kind of uncertainty you risk down the road driving away more scientists to leave and to go work at another lab in another country as some of these experiments take five or more years to plan and so if you don’t know if your funding is going to be maintained from year to year, it makes it a lot harder to plan.”
America, long the leader in these technologies will rapidly fall behind as other countries are more than eager to attract the limited number of researchers integral to the success of these projects.
Speaking with Alexander helped me get to a higher understanding of the imminent perils we’re facing and demanding an immediate response. The hand wringing and half measures proposed by our elected officials from both parties currently are woefully deficient and will result in further degradation at an ever increasing pace toward a irreversible future which is life threatening on a global scale. Continued procrastination will surely result in massive financial burden and unimaginable consequences for all living things on this planet.