November 10, 2016

What Now? A Brief Plan for Climate Action in Trumpland

A climate denier is going to be President of the United States. And if you were hoping that Trump’s strange views on the issue (it’s all a Chinese hoax!) were just bluster, think again. He recently appointed well-known climate skeptic Myron Ebell to lead his environmental and EPA transition team. Ebell has said the Paris climate agreement is unconstitutional. So even a moderate approach to energy and climate is not likely.

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Millions of us consider climate change a serious threat to the economy, our wellbeing, and our species. But we can get depressed or figure out how to move forward (or, I suppose, do both at the same time).

If we assume that this new government will be hostile to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan, the Paris Accords, renewables, and the clean economy in general, then I see two seemingly contradictory paths forward – we need both:

1. Make the policies of the federal government as irrelevant as possible.

In practice, this means relying on economics, local action, and the private sector. So three big things:

· Continue driving the cost of clean technology down as fast as possible, making it a financial no-brainer for all buyers (companies, municipalities, utilities, the military, and homeowners). We’re well on our way, with solar and wind already more than competitive. Battery storage is getting cheaper, and countless energy efficiency technologies have fantastic paybacks.

· Work at the state and city level to change policy. Companies, NGOs, and activists should push for policies such as: commitments by local governments to purchase clean energy and green products, renewable portfolio standards, and even gas taxes (New Jersey just did it!). A few weeks ago, nine big companies (working with Ceres) with operations in Ohio – including Nestle, Campbell Soup, Owens Corning, Gap, and JLL – lobbied the state to bring back a renewable portfolio standard. More of this, please.

· Lead from the private sector. Dozens of large companies now have commitments to science-based targets and 100% renewable energy. That’s all great news, but we need to go even faster. There’s much more to say about how to make this happen, but for now, just consider how important all three of these elements are together – the better the economics, the more companies will jump aboard. And the more convinced they are, the more they’ll want to push for local laws that promote the clean economy.

2. Continue to press the federal government to support the clean economy (or at least not dismantle it)

Even as we move to make the federal approach on climate and energy irrelevant, it seems prudent, just in case, to also move the needle at the federal level.

So let’s pitch the Trump administration on the fact that sustainability and the clean economy are good for business, the economy, jobs, global competitiveness, health, and much more. But I don’t know if he will hear this message from the usual suspects though. So we must utilize business voices to make the case. I’m fleshing out some ideas on this now – more to come in the near future…

If you understand climate science at all, you know it’s a very bad time for one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters to elect a denier. We’re running low on time. So if a Trump administration is going to fight the future, we have to find other paths.

(This post first appeared at HuffPo.)

(Andrew's book, The Big Pivot, was named a Best Business Book of the Year by Strategy+Business Magazine! Get your copy here. See also Andrew's TED talk on The Big Pivot.

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