Climate change is the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in a hundred years. Just because the current White House chooses not to lead on climate change doesn’t mean Americans can’t.
The truth is, states and cities, along with global investment markets, are the real drivers of energy policy across the United States — not the federal government.
Let’s look first at the business case for clean energy.
There are twice as many people employed in wind and solar jobs in the U.S. today than there are in coal mining. In fact, solar energy alone now employs more people than coal, oil, and gas extraction combined. And while job creation in those industries has been slumping, solar jobs continue to boom. In California alone, more people are employed in solar than are employed throughout the country in coal. In the state of Iowa, 35% of their energy now comes from Iowa wind. This brand new industry that did not exist just ten years ago now employs 7,000 people in jobs across this rural Midwestern state.
Investment markets see the opportunity, and they are investing big-time in the clean energy future.
The U.S. Advanced Energy market is now valued at $200 billion. There are more than 3 million advanced energy jobs in the United States and many of those are hands-on, blue collar jobs. It employs more people than agriculture and mining combined.
The cost of rooftop solar has fallen 64% in eight years. The price of land-based wind has fallen 50% in just the last four years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — the average wage for a wind technician is $24 an hour; solar $20 an hour; coal $22 — with more and more coal jobs falling every year to automation.
Meanwhile, the growth of green construction jobs has quadrupled over the last ten years, and there are a lot more jobs to be created in addressing climate change than in ignoring or denying it.
We need to be in the business of creating good jobs, not holding on to jobs that continue to disappear and whose wages continue to slump.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on an auction for an offshore wind farm that took place in mid-December, shortly after Mr. Trump’s climate-denying victory:
“… interest from the bidders was so fevered that the auction went through 33 rounds and spilled over to a second day. In the end, the winning bidder offered the federal Treasury $42 million, more than twice what the government got in August for oil leases — all oil leases — in the Gulf of Mexico. Who won the bid? None other than Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, which is in the midst of a major campaign to turn itself into a big player in renewable energy.”
“The energy transition is real…and Mr. Trump is not going to stop it. On a global scale, more than half the investment in new electricity generation is going into renewable energy. That is more than $300 billion a year, a sign of how powerful the momentum has become.”
Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the global Climate Accord is, therefore, not only morally irresponsible, it is economically indefensible. Our economy is not money or coal, it is people — all of our people. There are more jobs to be created for our people by addressing climate change than by clinging to fossil fuels. What’s good for short-term corporate coal profits, is not what is good for the people of the United States and our children. We did not leave the Stone Age behind because we ran out of rocks.
So take heart, America, and be not afraid. American progress is still possible. Perhaps this bone-headed withdrawal will spur even greater progress on a state by state, and on a city by city basis. The truth is, this is where the most recent progress has actually been happening in our country.
Consider one state’s story.
Over the last ten years, my own State of Maryland has taken action — like so many states — to create a new clean energy future. We decoupled the misaligned profit relationship between utility revenues and electricity consumption. We passed climate change legislation — setting goals, deadlines, action plans — for achieving a 25% greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. We raised our renewable portfolio from a voluntary 7%, to a mandatory 20% by 2022, and put incentives in place to reduce energy consumption by 15% by 2015.
A State that was nowhere in terms of green jobs a few years ago, achieved over the course of just eight years, the fastest rate of green job creation of any state in the country.
Just last month, Maryland gave the go-ahead to the development of the largest wind farm yet to be constructed in the Atlantic waters of the United States.
None of this was easy. Progress requires persistence, persuasion, consensus, understanding, and work — things beyond the abilities of our current President.
The practical, political point is this: we made this progress without any help, from anyone, in the Executive Branch of our Federal Government, or even our Congressional delegation. And the State of Maryland is not alone in her leadership.
Let’s look at climate actions across the United States.
Today, 41 states have now adopted net-metering.
19 states have now adopted greenhouse gas reduction targets.
26 states have now adopted mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards.
22 states have now adopted Energy Efficiency Standards and Targets.
26 states have now adopted Residential Building Energy Codes, and four have recently adopted higher standards.
If Federal efforts are sidelined for the next four years, then States like California, Maryland, cities like Pittsburgh, Boston, and San Diego and others must lead the way.
The laws of physics are permanent; Donald Trump’s presidency is not.
When will it end? No one can say exactly. The likelihood is, sooner rather than later. The whole Administration reeks of a criminal family enterprise. Mr. Trump already holds the all-time speed record for the fastest appointment of a Special Prosecutor in American presidential history.
Ignore the angry little man, his garbled 4:00 am tweets, and his denial of science — none of it is very lasting or real.
The opportunity of Climate Change — on the other hand — is very real. It is the greatest business and job creation opportunity to come to the United States in a hundred years.
And for the next couple of those years, American Cities and American States will have to seize this opportunity without the help of their very temporary President.
Martin O’Malley was the 61st Governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015. He previously served as the Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007. He is publishing his thoughts in a series titled, “Summer of Understanding.”