I did not vote for you, and today like many progressives I am trying to come to grips with the unimaginable. I am filled with sadness and trepidation about the future of our country and planet for so many reasons, but no reason looms larger in my mind than the impending global crisis of climate change.
You have called for a major infrastructure investment in roads, bridges, transportation and, of course, your Mexican wall. I encourage you to forgo the folly of your wall – a financially ludicrous proposal that fails to serve a policy goal – and instead establish a federal green bank to fund investments in renewable energy production and storage, energy conservation, and small-scale local energy production.
Perhaps this is wishful thinking for a man who has called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese and proposed looser regulations on fracking and offshore drilling. However, you were elected not on the basis of your policy positions, but on rhetoric and sloganeering. Implicitly, to make America great again in the parlance of Trumpism is to create good paying jobs for working class white people. A pro-environment agenda is not mutually exclusive of that goal. In fact, you don’t have to look very hard to find an example of another New York Republican President for inspiration: Teddy Roosevelt, the famed conservationist, whose trust-busting of corporate monopolies opened up competition and spurred forward one of our country’s most aggressive periods of economic growth. (I will also remind you that the Republican Party is the original party of conservation that gave us, for instance, the National Park System.)
Provided you take care of your base and deliver jobs and conservative judicial nominees, the door is still open for you to be a leader on environmental issues. I am not going to appeal to your sense of moral responsibility to protect the environment and to use natural resources in a sustainable way that meets the needs of today’s people without compromising the ability of future people to meet their needs. But I will appeal to your stated goal of creating good American jobs, doubling economic growth, and becoming energy independent.
And I will appeal to your contrarian instincts that delivered you the Republican Primary election and, last night, the Presidency. The GOP party line on a whole host of issues said, “zig” but you zagged. The science says definitively and conclusively that the GOP is wrong on climate change, so why not zag on this issue, too, and become a 21st Century Teddy Roosevelt.
You have famously dismissed the Republican party establishment and now, truly, the GOP owes its electoral success to you. It is your Party and you have a blank policy slate on which to work. The GOP is the only major political party among developed nations that has not accepted anthropogenic climate change. But I believe that your own enthusiasm for climate science denial is mere political convenience and no one – not your supporters, not the GOP, and certainly not progressives – will care if you adopt a pro-environment agenda. After all, climate change wasn’t even a topic during the presidential debates. Conservatives have other priorities.
So, it’s really about jobs and the myth that being pro-environment means being anti-labor, and is a luxury that only liberal elites can afford. Mr. Trump, you have spoken at length about changing the rules of the game so those same elites can’t take advantage of tax loopholes, corporate subsidies, and other incentives at the expense of working people. The fossil fuel industries are major beneficiaries of such corporate welfare, receiving 70% of all federal energy subsidies in the past 60 years, and more than twice as many federal dollars than renewables between 2002 and 2008. And these figures, of course, do not include the trillions in defense funding our country has spent on military interventions and security in oil producing regions. And it also does not include the externalized costs associated with fossil fuel production and consumption, which in environmental and human health terms dwarfs renewable energy externalities.
Other than your proposal to invest in infrastructure we have heard nothing concrete about your plan to create new jobs. You have boasted of protectionist policies that will bring jobs back to the US, but virtually every economist that analyzed your proposal has concluded your protectionist policies will cause economic contraction and actually destroy millions of jobs. Withdrawing the United States from the global economy quite literally flies against accepted bipartisan economic wisdom. If you take us down that road, you are taking the global economy into a recession that will last for decades, signal the end of US hegemony, and crush our working class for at least a generation.
If you want to create jobs, you need to establish a business environment that is conducive to investment and risk-taking. That means global markets for capital, goods, and services; subsidies and incentives for emerging technologies and businesses that serve a social need; and a prominent role by government in capital intensive and infrastructure dependent industries, like the energy sector. America’s historical economic success is based on these principles. Our entrepreneurial and financial sectors are the envy of the world, and when coupled with the stability of our democratic institutions and strategic government investment, have allowed “big league” economic growth on the foundation of large-scale infrastructure programs, from the railroads to the New Deal, and the interstate highway system to information technologies. For this same economic potential to be unleashed by a green economy, government has to lead by investing in our energy grid; creating a regulatory and business environment that encourages local, small-scale clean energy production; and incentivizing energy conservation.
One last thing. If you can’t make good on your promise to bring jobs back to the middle class, we are sure to see control of the federal government whipsaw back to Democrats. And, if there is one thing I know for certain about you, Mr. Trump, it’s that your ego won’t be able to handle the loss. And unlike the prospect of a loss in the 2016 presidential election, you won’t be able to blame it on a “rigged” system that you lead. So, yes, we desperately need to modernize our transportation network and we can put the middle class back to work building roads and bridges. But don’t pass on the chance to put people to work building a clean and green 21st Century energy infrastructure, too. It is your best opportunity for a second term.
Jeff Sharpe is the co-founder and director of Sustainable Learning. This article represents his views and not the views of Sustainable Learning or its board of directors. It has been lightly edited in response to reader feedback. Original version showing line edits here.