Originally published on CleanTechnica
by Zachary Shahan
To be fair, we don’t yet know what Donald Trump’s precise climate approach will be, but it seems all but guaranteed that he will slow and obstruct climate action and will do a “great deal” to increase pollution and CO2 emissions from the out-of-date oil, coal, and gas industries.
This is idiotic not just because it puts all of human society at great risk, but also because it’s one of the worst economic moves a politician can make. I’ll run down three reasons why in the bulk of this article, but let’s first highlight some positive climate policy news from other economic and energy giants — India isn’t going to pull back its climate efforts no matter what Trump does (CleanTechnica exclusive) and China is already announcing that it’s willing to take the lead on climate action (a position it will milk as part of an overall global power grab in the coming years). To be frank, no country with sane leadership is going to hurt both itself and the world by going slow on cleantech growth. Here’s why:
Cleantech Jobs > Fossil Jobs
At the opening of the World Future Energy Summit earlier this week, former president of Mexico Felipe Calderón had some powerful energy statistics from the US to share — there are approximately 70,000 coal mining jobs in the US today, whereas there are over 200,000 solar energy jobs there (exclusive video and more commentary coming).
In a separate interview with Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Amin dropped some similar stats on us — 85,000 people work in the coal industry in the United States, whereas approximately 400,000 people are employed in renewables in the US. For a little further context, that equals ~5% of the global renewable energy workforce.
Even today — with coal accounting for ~30% of US electricity and solar accounting for ~1% of US electricity — solar jobs outnumber coal jobs. Solar power and wind power have both become cheaper than coal power (by far) and almost no new coal power capacity has been added in the past few years (renewables have dominated new capacity and natural gas has accounted for almost all of the rest).
Hastening the energy transition would create thousands and thousands of new jobs, whereas delaying it would make the US economy more stagnant and weaker. Hastening the energy transition would result in many more solar and wind energy power plants and distributed systems on homes and farms across the country, whereas delaying it just means burning more coal and natural gas in old power plants, polluting the lives of more Americans, and allowing coal and oil billionaires to stuff more cash into their over-inflated bank accounts.
The basic economics of renewables isn’t going to change, but weakening or crushing the Clean Power Plan would allow old, dirty coal power plants to remain open (and cause premature death to countless American citizens), which would mean a slower increase in renewable energy jobs. Put very frankly: the number of renewable energy jobs that approach would keep off the market is a larger number than the number of coal jobs that would be saved for a few more years.
Coal mining is largely automated at this point and the old coal plants the Clean Power Plan would shut down are, of course, already fully built, but the renewable energy projects that would be created to more quickly replace these old coal plants would create renewable energy design, manufacturing, sales, and installation jobs for Americans in need of work.
Any efforts to let oil & gas companies pollute more and any efforts that allow more natural gas power plants to get built will of course harm human health — they will harm the health, quality of life, and lifespan of real American citizens. However, again, there is also likely to be a jobs hit. Part of the beauty of wind and solar power is that these are highly distributed power-generation technologies that require a great deal of local work for installation. Additionally, some of the largest manufacturers are American (GE for wind turbines, SunPower and First Solar for solar panels, etc.). Much of the cost of natural gas is simply for the fuel and is funnelled to billionaires and multimillionaires at the top of this industry — buddies of Donald Trump, perhaps. Renewable energy is the real job creator, not natural gas.
Efforts to hurt electric vehicle growth will hurt US manufacturing as well — Tesla is based in California and Nevada, the Nissan LEAF is built in Tennessee, the Chevy Bolt is produced in Michigan, and other electric cars are or will be manufactured in the US.
At one point last year, we highlighted that the fastest-growing job in the US was the job of a wind turbine technician. It seems that Trump won’t promote this job or industry since he has a long history of anti-wind behavior, but for his own sake (and the country’s) it would be quite helpful if he didn’t obstruct continued wind energy growth. When the US wind market grows, US wind turbine manufacturing grows. The best way to hurt US wind turbine manufacturing is to hurt the US wind energy market.