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You hear a lot of debate among climate advocates about the roles of fear and hope. But sometimes it just feels like we’ve been transported into the theatre of the absurd.

In a province where farmers, ranchers and other landowners cannot refuse oil and gas drilling, the Alberta government has announced sweeping restrictions on renewable energy. After freezing approvals in the booming wind and solar sector last year, Premier Danielle Smith announced the moratorium will be replaced with a morass of rules, yet to be clearly defined.

The fossil fuel industry will remain free to mine the oilsands and drill near communities and parks. But wind and solar will be restricted. Drill rigs and pumpjacks, pepper fields and landscapes, but solar panels and wind power must not impinge farmland or “viewscapes.” The liability costs for cleaning up oil and gas operations mount into baffling billions while reclamation bonds will be imposed on renewables.

Maps of the no-go zones will be produced at some point in the future, says the provincial government. Based on the statements at the premier’s press conference, the Pembina Institute and CPAWS calculate that 76 per cent of the province would be ruled out-of-bounds, including all the best wind and all but a smidgen of the best solar.

That level of restrictiveness is so absurd, it seems likely to be softened. But the degree of double standard has to be mapped to be grasped. Here’s the map of oil and gas operations.

Map by Coleman Vollrath

It’s an incredible “double standard,” but that phrase seems far too tactful in the theatre of the absurd. Tragicomedy? Farce?

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says: “Danielle Smith’s temporary moratorium on renewable energy development is becoming a permanent attack on our economic future.” Other earnest advocates describe the clampdown on renewable power as an “uncertainty bomb,” a “backdoor ban” or a “soft moratorium.”

Donald Trump's petro-masculinity is certainly getting political oxygen from Conservative leaders in Canada, writes Chris Hatch @zerocarbon #ableg #abpoli #skpoli #cdnpoli #Onpoli

Only a “soft moratorium”? Tucker Carlson and Co. must be disappointed. It was only one month ago that Smith joined Carlson and Jordan Peterson’s events in Alberta. The premier made energy the focus of her sit-down with Carlson, lambasting the feds for policies on climate and clean energy.

Her host might have expected a more aggressive defence of the fossil quo when it came time to reveal the rules against wussy, low-carb energy. A more Trumpian one.

Donald Trump is where we hear the undisguised feelings animating the populist backlash against clean energy and climate action. None of Smith’s masquerade about carbon neutrality by 2050. No pretence about wind and solar having “a role to play.”

If you’re a Trump follower, you’ve heard from him directly that wind farms cause cancer (and hammer house prices down 75 per cent in value). And the offshore projects are “causing whales to die in numbers never seen before… The windmills are driving them crazy. They are driving the whales, I think, a little batty,” says Trump.

You probably know the former U.S. president described climate change as “nonexistent” and a “hoax” invented by China. In office, he rolled back over 100 major climate and environmental protections and gutted the staff in charge. He’s claimed that energy-efficient buildings can’t have windows, or only “tiny little windows so you can’t see out,” and that putting solar panels on a roof means no air-conditioning for the elderly.

You’ve probably heard about the “dictator for a day” comments, the vows for vengeance, the drumbeat of stolen election claims and his sinister depiction of immigrants “poisoning the blood of the country.”

But if you haven’t been watching his campaign speeches lately, you’d be shocked to hear how much time he devotes to boosting oil and gas while shit-talking solar, wind and electric vehicles.

“Drill, baby, drill” is often one of Trump’s first lines at the podium, his answer to the usual questions about what he’ll do on Day 1 if he gets re-elected. He’d also pull out of the Paris Agreement (again).

Those are some of his old standards. But he’s got new material, and new twists on climate change being a hoax. Trump’s more recent line is that the climate crisis is a “green new hoax” pushed by “fake climate alarmists that don’t have a clue” and would destroy and bankrupt the nation with “climate mandates.”

He goes off on long, rambling diatribes about water conservation and efficiency rules. You now have to flush toilets five times because of liberals, he claims. And when you shower, no water comes out, he complained to Fox News' Laura Ingraham this month.

One of Trump’s frequent targets is the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which allocates hundreds of billions to clean energy projects through tax credits and direct investments. He’s repeatedly called for axing the clean energy incentives.

The push towards electrification and cleaning the grid is a “transition to hell,” says Trump. “You’re going to lose your beautiful way of life,” he warned workers in Michigan, describing the IRA as a “government assassination of our jobs and your industry. A hit job… Biden’s forced transition is a transition to hell.”

It may seem like a dizzying spin through a hall of mirrors. But Trump’s instincts can be piercing. While climate and health groups toil away trying to convince the public that electrification is the backbone of safer energy, Trump is well onto the counterattack. “They’re going electric-crazy,” he warns crowds.

And while Trump’s speeches might sound absurd, there are resonant themes we can’t ignore. A blend of petro-masculinity and that variant of freedom that refuses to account for harm to others. Those attitudes might not be getting the full Trump treatment in Canada, but they are certainly getting political oxygen from Conservative leaders.

One topic rises above the sneering at solar and loathing of wind farms and that’s Trump’s disgust for electric vehicles. It’s a subject he returns to over and over again. Among other howlers, he’s claimed EVs can only run for 15 minutes and lambasted the U.S. Army for purportedly planning electric tanks.

“We will blast the shit out of everybody, but at least we will go in with environmentally nice equipment. Can you believe it?” he asks. (For the record: you shouldn’t.)

But where we’ve hit peak absurdity (so far) is about boats, of all things. And that’s where we finally discovered something Trump hates more than electrification — sharks.

Rallying his base before the Iowa caucuses, Trump ripped into electric boats. The batteries are so heavy, they sink, he claimed. (This would be news to passengers on the electric ferries of Northern Europe or the more modest ones beginning to appear in North America. But let’s not get hung up on fact-checking and get back to Iowa.)

"Let's say your boat goes down, and I'm sitting on top of this big, powerful battery. And the boat's going down. Do I get electrocuted?"

We should probably pause a moment to remember we are listening to the once-and-hopeful U.S. president. By this time next year, the guy could be in charge of the world’s biggest economy and largest producer of fossil fuels.

"If I'm sitting down, and that boat's going down, and I'm on top of a battery, and the water starts flooding in, I'm getting concerned," Trump told the crowd. "But then I look 10 yards to my left, and there's a shark over there. So I have a choice of electrocution or shark. You know what I'm gonna take? Electrocution. I will take electrocution every single time."

Chris Hatch writes Canada's National Observer's celebrated Sunday newsletter, Zero Carbon. Chris is the former executive director of Rainforest Action Network as well as the former executive editor at Canada's National Observer. He is now a columnist at National Observer and writes the acclaimed Sunday newsletter, Zero Carbon.

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As a climate activist, I find my hope for the future dwindling as I read this. The quotes from Trump's ravings are echoed in some of the nonsense I'm hearing from a certain wanna-be prime minister politician here in Canada. I'm beginning to see the playbook now, and it doesn't bode well for Canada. We have been watching this unfold for several years and the pattern is becoming clearer: Tell outrageous lies and double down on a constant barrage of attacks on the current office-holder - president or prime minister. Make it loud and insistent, and eventually some of the trash talk will stick, especially among those who don't keep track of events and who don't check facts. I fear for my country, as we head into dangerous times with the climate crisis.

Thanks for an excellent piece. Theatre of the absurd indeed. At least this latest move by the Smith government makes it patently obvious to everyone who missed it before that we're down to a bare-knuckle fight between development of renewables and the status quo.