An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

Mr. Trump,

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.

9 thoughts on “An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

  1. Thank you Jeff Sharpe for your direct intense and truly correct response to what is at hand. I cannot manage words to this depth on the issue, esp. today. Thank for speaking for us.

  2. Perfect! Thank you for taking the time and the energy to put these thoughts and suggestions down in a way that makes so much sense!

  3. If you would wish to truly gain consideration from Donald J. Trump, I would suggest removing the snide comments and attacks towards him and his supporters. As a supporter of the republican party, these simple sentences could be misconstrued as insults and attacks, spurring an incentive to ignore your thoughts.

    1. Thomas,

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation. I think it is absolutely essential that folks from all political perspectives find common ground and work to implement solutions that marry the best ideas from both sides. I am not taking aim at Republicans/Conservatives, certainly not individual conservatives. But it is really difficult to even have a bipartisan conversation about environmental policy right now when the official party line for the GOP is that climate change is not real, which is patently false. I know that many Republicans trust the science and want to see sensible environmental policies enacted, which is why your point is really valid. I don’t want to be turning any conservatives off, but I’m also not entirely clear about what in my message would be construed as an “insult” or “attack” on Trump supporters. I may be taking aim at a few specific policy ideas I disagree with, but that is to be expected. No one should provide blanket support for every single position on a party’s platform. I certainly don’t support every position of the Obama administration and there are a great many things I disagree with. It is our responsibility as citizens to question the decisions of our political leaders, and as Mr. Trump has so clearly demonstrated, using strong language to do so can be particularly effective. So help me out here. I’ve recognized the fact that Trump’s proposal to make a significant investment in infrastructure is a very good one. What is undermining my argument? Is it my statement about my overall trepidation for the future of the country? Surely conservatives understand that literally millions of people are feeling that way right now. Is it that I called his proposal to build a wall along our southern border “financially ludicrous,” because I genuinely cannot think of any other terms to describe that policy position. If Trump thinks he can build “the wall” and rebuild our transportation and energy infrastructure, I think he’s going to find a whole lot of conservatives unhappy with the size of the national debt.

      – Jeff

  4. I also would like to thank you, Jeff , for your incisive and insightful comments, and would gladly add my name to any signature page that would be forwarded to President Elect Trump. It is impossible for us to return to the policies and economics of 50 years ago. Isolationism is no longer viable in a global economy. The only way to proceed is forward, and I would urge Mr. Trump to consider becoming a leader in creating a sustainable economy for our nation and our world.

  5. well written. well said. thanks for verbalizing a critical issue.., with factual criticism, and yet a positive proposal for jobs and green energy. Climate change is real. The crisis is now. we must keep pushing this issue forward. yours is a win-win approach. thanks.

  6. Nicely done Mr. Sharpe. Well articulated, constructive and amicable rather than the destructive vitriol being shared these past few days amongst all of us. Can’t believe it was 25 years ago when we used to play together as kids. Hope all is well with you and the Sharpe family.

  7. I agree whole heartedly with all you write and will sign what you release.

    I worry the snide remarks could be a setback and cause climate deniers to shut down. It seems that there is a need to publicly air both sides of the climate science. Not enough people in the country see/hear the ‘proof’ or hear directly from the scientists. While it is hard to believe that there continues to be a debate in our country, I think the more factual the info presented, the better. And a more vigilant debunking of false climate rhetoric on the info that some are reading/hearing/seeing. How to reach these people without alienating. Kudos to you for continuing the conversation!

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