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Fighting Climate Change Puts America First

Fighting Climate Change Puts America First

As the latest meeting of G7 ministers wrapped up last week, it emerged that Trump officials had attempted to push pro-fossil fuels and pro-nuclear power rhetoric into the final statement. The international community was having none of it. The meeting’s European leaders refused to entertain pro-fossil fuel rhetoric for the statement unless the U.S. reaffirmed commitment to the Paris agreement. President Trump is presently still deciding whether to stay in the Paris Agreement, and some lawmakers have pressed him to ask for concessions in exchange for officially staying committed to the agreement. This is not a popular opinion abroad.

President Trump has focused on coal and other fossil fuels as part of his “America First” strategy, but it is important to note that the international community does not see this as a smart move in lieu of the global shift towards low carbon economies. In Europe, the share of renewable energy in the EU’s energy mix increased to 16.7% in 2015 and is on track to meet the 20% by 2020 goal. In individual countries, like Sweden, the percentage is much higher.

Developing countries are also pushing for renewables as prices continue to fall. In 2016, Costa Rica’s electricity sector ran carbon-free for 250 days, an accomplishment that set an example for developing economies around the world. In Africa, the potential for solar power is immense. Solar has brought electricity and an influx of innovative clean energy products, like cookstoves, to Africa’s rural areas. The relatively low cost and enormous benefit of solar power has also had a positive impact on Africans living in poverty, especially women. Poverty disproportionately affects women and girls. If renewable energy helps lift women out of poverty around the world (something that traditional fuels have been unable to do), this would be a boon to developing economies. Even the oil rich nation Saudi Arabia is aiming to receive 10% of its power from renewables by 2023. In China, investments in renewable energy continue to rise and internationally, its commitment to climate leadership remains strong. Although China is still married to coal in many ways, choking air pollution has stirred public dissent and hampered tourism, making coal a less favorable resource.

Domestically, President Trump’s determination to revitalize the coal industry seems like a poor business decision. Political forces and a global shift towards clean energy have contributed to coal’s decline, however, market forces in the U.S. have also played a major role in making coal less competitive. The primary culprit in the “war on coal” was not Obama’s EPA – it was cheap, abundant natural gas. Even coal mogul Robert Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, has said that President Trump’s rollback of climate regulations – although he is supportive – will do little to bring back coal industry jobs as the losses are due to an “energy cost problem.”

On April 13th, EPA Chief Scott Pruitt reported on Fox and Friends that the Paris Agreement is a “bad deal” for the U.S., and that it would be an “America second, third, or fourth kind of approach.” In actuality, keeping our Paris commitment will help ensure U.S. primacy by allowing us to have skin in the game and obtain more global legitimacy. We could even decrease our trade deficit with China if we implement a carbon tax mitigation strategy, which would be good for the economy. Fighting progress on climate change puts the U.S. at a disadvantage because it places us on the losing side of a global shift.

So, Mr. Pruitt, you’re mistaken– U.S. climate efforts do in fact support an “America First” agenda. Here’s why:

Without climate progress the U.S. risks missing the tech boat

  •  As the U.S. moves further away from a clean energy economy, we lose the chance to develop technologies the world desperately wants, such as energy storage and affordable electric cars, and other countries are happy to meet the demand without U.S. competition. Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in China grew 70% in 2016, which now boasts the world’s biggest market of 630,000 cars. Canada, France and Sweden also had growth in EV sales of 50-70% last year. Meanwhile, many Republican states are attempting to stop subsidies for EVs, putting U.S. EV companies at a further disadvantage.

Climate change is a national security threat

  • John Sterman, director of MIT’s system dynamics group, stated: “If we withdraw from Paris or the UNFCCC, we make it much harder to limit the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. That would create a huge flow of refugees from the Middle East and elsewhere who will look to go to the U.S. and Europe. There won’t be a wall big enough to keep out people fleeing floods and crop failures.” This is exactly what Secretary of Defense James Mattis means when he says climate change is a threat to national security; it will create climate refugees, fuel terrorism, and foster international crises.

Renewable energy is good for the U.S. economy

  • We know that transitioning to a clean energy economy is simply a smart thing to do and that the U.S. has the capability to do it, as home to the first solar panels, and the first megawatt wind turbine. A recent report found that the wind power industry provided 102,500 new jobs in 2016 and that the largest producers of wind in the U.S. are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, South and North Dakota, and Iowa. In fact, the “2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report” by the DOE found that the clean energy economy provides five times more jobs than the oil, gas, and coal industries combined. In Ohio, coal jobs declined while solar jobs doubled and, although they don’t replace one another in every case, refusing to foster the development of such renewable energies would be a poor investment decision.

A clean energy transition is supported by business

  • Since November 2016, 1000 businesses and hundreds of investors have signed onto the “Business Backs Low Carbon USA” statement encouraging the U.S. to stay in the Paris Agreement and keep America competitive by transitioning to a low carbon, energy efficient economy. International non-profit CDP has found that an increasing number of businesses are internally pricing carbon, encouraging low carbon business practices. Richard Reavey of Cloud Peak Energy, one of the three largest coal producers, has said, "We have to accept that there are reasonable concerns about carbon dioxide and climate, and something has to be done about it."

It’s what the people want

  •  Seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is occurring and more than half of Trump voters support a mitigation strategy (e.g. carbon tax). Moreover, nearly three quarters of Trump voters support the development of clean energy. Even the fossil fuel industry is concerned by this: at the CERAWeek energy conference in March, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden expressed concern that public distrust of the fossil fuel industry and a growing impatience for the status quo energy system could have dangerous implications for their future. So when White House budget chief calls climate change action “a waste of your money,” it shows that he and the Trump administration are clearly not considering American taxpayers.

By sticking with fossil fuels as the “America first” energy strategy, the U.S. risks ceding climate leadership to Europe and China and disadvantaging American companies abroad. What’s more, federal resistance puts Americans at risk of losing the public health benefits and savings, from fuel efficient cars and appliances, that a low carbon economy can provide. The Trump Administration’s pro-fossil fuel approach is not “America first.” If it was, it would take into account the benefits that clean energy and climate change policies have had and will continue to have for the American people.


The views reflected in this piece do not reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror itself.

Photo: “Svenska: Grönland,” Originally for Nordic Co-operation website ( with a CC license. Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator. 

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