I had darker thoughts about the future the day after the election than I ever have. Beyond Trump’s outrageous behavior, detestable language, and total disregard of core American values, he campaigned against the very things I care most deeply about — transforming how we use the Earth’s natural resources and addressing climate change.
Now that Trump is selecting his administration, pundits are making all kinds of predictions about how the next four years will affect the clean economy industry — many of them dire and a few desperately hopeful. President Obama called Trump a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Likewise, Trump himself recently claimed to have “an open mind” about climate change. We’ll see. I am not sure that Trump even knows what he plans to do.
Whichever Trump shows up in the White House, the reality is that the clean economy industry will have no control over what he says (or tweets) and little control over what he does. But we can control how we respond. So if you share my concern for the future of this industry and our relationship with the planet, I implore you to keep this in mind: when Trump or his people say something absurd about clean energy or climate change, don’t take the bait!
This industry needs to be on offense, not defense. We need to realize that we actually have the stronger hand. The world has already tipped beyond a point of no return towards a cleaner economy. Last year, 70% of all investment in electric power generation globally went to renewable energy, totaling $288 billion. In the US, the solar and wind industries now employ nearly 300,000 Americans, more than both the oil and gas and coal industries combined. In the last 10 years, solar has grown at a compound annual rate of nearly 60% — faster than nearly any other industry sector. And there is now more wind power installed in Republican Congressional districts than Democratic ones. Renewables are winning not because of politics or policies, but because they are simply a better source of energy. They are the future.
Yes, the U.S. has a long way to go and very little time to address climate change. But we need to see a retro effort to take the nation back to an economy dominated forever by fossil fuels for what it is… a joke. The same goes for Trump’s pick to lead the transition at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Myron Ebell, a well-known climate change skeptic who has called the world’s leading experts on climate change, “fifth-rate scientists,” beholden to the “forces of darkness.” We can’t take people like him seriously and earnestly try to convince them that climate change really matters.
No, the clean economy industry has spent more than a decade trying to win the skeptics over with facts and logical arguments. We need to stop wasting time on convincing people who don’t care and won’t listen, and just do it. Our industry is on the right side of history and now has the scale and muscle to be confident that it is going to move forward regardless of what the Trump administration does. Yes, his administration will likely try to pull back from the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, the Clean Power Plan, and 100 other things that a Clinton administration would have pushed forward. And these will delay progress, dearly.
But this industry can’t afford to be in a defensive crouch. If the federal government won’t support sensible energy and climate policies, too bad. We’ll have to do it the old fashioned way — earn it. Going on offense means taking responsibility for bringing about the world you want, whatever role you play in business or society…
If you’re an investor in the clean economy, now is the time to double down and deploy even more capital in solutions that improve how we use natural resources. There are many promising, game changing companies out there that can be profitable without help from the government — but they need risk capital.
If you’re an entrepreneur, now is the time to get creative by finding resource inefficiencies and designing products to solve them. There are huge opportunities out there if you look.
If you’re a CEO of a public company, now is the time to signal that — whatever the federal government does — your company is committed to addressing climate change in its operations and products. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is in the best interests of your shareholders.
If you’re just an ordinary citizen, now is the time to stand up for what you believe in, whether that means passing on the values of a cleaner economy to your children or using the tools of peaceful protest if those values are threatened.
And for all of us in the industry, now is definitely the time to be opportunistic and keep our biases from getting in the way. And that means cutting deals with The Donald whenever he does something sensible.
I truly believe that the industry will survive whatever the incoming administration throws at it. I would argue that it may even thrive more in the long run due to a harsher, more bottom-line focused commercial environment in the short term. But that’s only possible if we don’t get in the mud with the fossil fanatics in Trump’s constituency, playing on their terms, reverting to our terrible, self-defeating habit of fighting the skeptics’ simplistic, but emotionally-resonant slogans with facts. If Trump chooses to attack the clean economy — and can’t see that it is already helping to make America great – that’s ultimately his problem, not ours.
Trump nearly un-did himself by repeatedly taking Hillary Clinton’s bait during the presidential debates. Remember Trump’s five-day tweet storm about the weight of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado? But then, seizing the opening provided by the re-surfacing of Clinton’s email controversy, he showed unprecedented discipline in those last 10 days before the election. He even let his staff control his Twitter account. He demonstrated to enough people that he could stay focused on the prize and be presidential. Arguably, that discipline changed history. To secure the future of the clean economy, we need to show that same spine, and more.
Nicholas Moore Eisenberger is the managing partner of Pure Energy Partners, a clean economy venture catalyst firm based in New York.