Could renewable energy business win out in Trump's climate policy?

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump famously called climate change a 'hoax.' But the increasing economic viability of alternative energies, plus the ability to keep jobs at home, may prompt him to reconsider.

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
Solar installers from Baker Electric place solar panels on the roof of a residential home in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, Calif.

Given Donald Trump’s remarks on the campaign trail, many are concerned that his administration will jeopardize the climate progress made under President Obama.

President-elect Trump famously called climate change a “hoax,” and vowed to back out of the Paris Agreement, where the world’s nations came together and agreed to curb their emissions. His recently released “Energy independence” policy calls for the elimination of numerous environmental regulations and increased exploitation of coal, oil, and natural gas.

In light of all this, former Vice President Al Gore's offer to work with Mr. Trump on climate issues – writing that "I hope that he will work with the overwhelming majority of us who believe that the climate crisis is the greatest threat we face as a nation" – has been derided by some as naive.

However, as Mr. Gore noted, there are strong business imperatives to expand renewable energy – and Trump is a businessman. Profitable renewable energy might provide a much-needed area of consensus with a business-oriented Republican Congress. It could also help Trump live up to his populist message, by keeping jobs at home and energy costs down.

"The work that has been done by civil society, businesses, investors, and governments at all levels will continue to be driven by the fact that solutions to the climate crisis are not just vital to our planet, but are vital to our economy," Gore wrote in a blog post for the Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit he founded in 2006 as the Alliance for Climate Protection. "The market forces driving the transition to a sustainable economy simply will not be slowed."

Trump’s opposition to environmental issues could be significant on a global level, as The Christian Science Monitor reported on Wednesday. With or without the Paris agreement, which went into force last week, "he can certainly withdraw US leadership on climate action – with repercussions for both US carbon emissions and international momentum on the issue."

But even if that support is withdrawn, increasing the use of renewable energies could reduce US carbon emissions. It’s a step that makes increasing economic sense, as well, with renewable energy sources falling in the middle of the range in terms of cost – and go down after installation, because, unlike traditional sources, solar and wind do not cost anything. Everyone from Bill Gates to Elon Musk has invested in the industry, suggesting that it is not only a safe economic bet, but has huge potential for growth.

And renewable energy could be made to fit with Trump’s populist message, helping to target rising energy costs, which he highlights in his "Energy independence" policy, and keeping manufacturing and construction jobs at home. One report estimated that expanding clean energy investments could add 2.7 million jobs to the US economy

And, divisive as "climate change" has proven, Americans overwhelmingly agree that they want more renewable energy. In a Pew survey released in October, 89 percent of respondents wanted more solar farms, while 83 percent viewed more wind turbines favorably

"America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs," Trump's website promises. It remains to be seen if there is room for green energy in that revolution, too.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to clarify when the Climate Reality Project was founded. 

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