Making the business case on climate change to Trump

Making the business case on climate change to Trump

Briefcase in water
ShutterstockSergey Nivens
Dear President-elect, as the sea levels rise, don't throw away this opportunity.

For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. I’ve spent my entire life and business looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world. That is now what I want to do for our country.

— Donald J. Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

As one of those who did not vote for you, I was heartened by your words in your victory speech, quoted above. Thank you for reaching out to me.

And now, I would like to reach out to you. Specifically, I’d like to present a business case, a profitability case, for letting the private sector move forward on clean energy even if you don’t believe in human-caused climate change.

You talk about untapped potential. Consider this: More solar energy falls on the earth every hour than all the energy humans use in a year. 

I’m writing to you because we have a tremendous opportunity right now to rebuild our nation and assume the world leadership we used to have in this area: to create tens of thousands of good-paying new jobs; to slash the cost of energy for businesses and homeowners; to reduce diseases such as asthma, black lung and even some cancers; and to put money in the pockets of thousands of American entrepreneurs without raising taxes.

By last January, solar employed far more people than oil, coal or gas extraction. The Department of Energy reports that solar alone (not counting wind, hydro and other clean energy) is already generating 30 gigawatts per year. In 2008, it was only 1.2GW — but three other countries are ahead of the U.S. in solar capacity, even though the U.S. had been at the top for decades. Let’s "Make America great again" in this area.

Including large hydropower, 9.4 million people work in renewable energy, worldwide — but only 414,000 Americans are directly employed in solar and wind (PDF).

Really cool technologies are coming on line to meet our power needs in ways that reduce pollution and all its health consequences and don’t generate citizen opposition — Frisbee-sized hydroelectric generators that don’t need to dam a river; solar roofing paint and tiles; conservation initiatives such as the deep energy retrofit that’s saving the Empire State Building $4.4 million every year; vertical-axis wind turbines the size of an oil drum that can turn wind to energy in a far greater range of conditions than regular turbines (a few among many innovations).

And pretty amazing citizen initiatives, too — such as the Green Scissors movement that joins Tea Partiers and environmentalists to oppose government waste.

We used to be that world leader, but now we’re behind China and Germany. We can get that leadership once again and create lots of jobs right here in America. And we can do all this by harnessing the positive power of enlightened self-interest: the profit motive.

Here’s the thing: We can do it without government subsidies. In fact, I’d love to see an end for all the subsidies in the energy sector. If there were a level playing field that didn’t funnel massive subsidies to fossil and nuclear, clean energy quickly would rise to the top. Even in today’s economy skewed by these massive subsidies, solar and wind are growing rapidly, far faster than anyone would have predicted 10 or 15 years ago — because the economics still make sense.

But it can’t be done in the face of overt hostility and interference from the federal government. I implore you not to interfere with the transition to renewable clean energy that’s already happening through market forces. That means honoring the Paris Agreement and keeping the Clean Power Plan, maintaining the U.S.’s hard-fought reputation as a partner to be trusted by the rest of the world.

It means not giving up leadership to China — which already has pledged to push forward globally if we don’t. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin pledged to continue its fight climate change "whatever the circumstances." China and India are not wasting any time developing innovative solar technologies that could leave the U.S. economy vulnerable if we don’t move forward, such as the "heliosolar."

And it means appointing a Secretary of Energy who is not beholden to the "same old same old" oil, gas, coal and nuclear interests. How about Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the people involved with the Empire State Building retrofit? Lovins understands how to self-fund the clean energy transition out of savings, and he’s written a plan to get off fossil fuels entirely in the next couple of decades.

Your base probably would welcome conservation and solar retrofits of government buildings, which would make green energy even more affordable to homes and businesses as production scales up to meet the demand: Create tens of thousands of new jobs; reduce the risk of new Middle East wars because there would be no need to fight over oil. 

This trend is happening already. Investments in renewables provide far more bang for the buck than they did when I put solar on my own house more than a decade ago. 

The cost of solar has dropped dramatically already. In 1977, just the panels alone cost $76 per watt. In the second quarter of 2016, the cost of the cell alone was just 30 cents per watt — a 25,333 percent decrease — and total installation cost (panels, infrastructure, installation) was $3 per watt. This is expected to drop below $1 a watt by 2020.

It’s expected to continue dropping. Worldwide, the cost in 2017 is expected to be 40 percent lower than in 2015.

In other words, you are in a position to spur private enterprise to do this so the government doesn’t have to, protect the progress we’ve made on climate while helping the business community, and not only keep taxes down but lower energy costs for businesses and residents of these United States.

As a consultant and the author of several relevant books in this area, I’m more than happy to meet with you or your advisors to discuss any of this.

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