Wind faces up to post-truth age

The US wind industry has reacted with commendable calm to the forthcoming presidency of Donald Trump.

And there are good reasons, certainly in the short term, to support its confidence that there will be no immediate drastic change to wind energy's role in US electricity generation, despite the president-elect's unbridled enthusiasm for fossil fuels and contempt for climate-change science.

Four of the five states with the most installed wind capacity voted for Trump. The production tax credit has strong bipartisan support and is being phased-out anyway. The case to revive the US coal-mining industry is cancelled out by Trump's pledge to unleash a "shale-energy revolution".

There is a corporate momentum towards using wind and solar, with 60% of Fortune-100 firms adopting climate change and renewables policies, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And Trump's repeated claims during the campaign that wind (and solar) are "very, very expensive" are simply not borne out by the facts.

But if there is little cause for panic, there little to celebrate either. The US wind industry is perhaps making the same mistake the pundits and pollsters made - assuming that decisions will be driven by good sense and acceptance of evidence.

The Oxford English Dictionary chose "post-truth" as its international word of the year in the week after the US election. It is defined as "an adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".

Logic and reason go out of the window in a post-truth world. Trump's administration probably won't put immediate stoppers on renewable development, but it is hard to see how it can roll back entirely from campaign pledges to scrap the Clean Power Plan, close the Environmental Protection Agency, or cancel its commitments to the Paris climate agreement.

Trump will need to throw some red meat to his supporters. At the very least, we can assume that the US will not play a leading role on climate-change mitigation on the global stage. How that will influence other nations is just one of the many unknowns.

The biggest unknown of all is the effect of a Trump presidency on the US and global economies. The plan, insofar as there is one, calls for tax cuts for the well-off, protectionist tariffs on trade, increases in infrastructure investment and cuts in federal spending. That looks like a difficult circle to square. And nobody stands to benefit from a tit-for-trade war, least of all an industry as international as wind power.