Environmentalists are having a tough time adjusting to a hostile administration. After enjoying two terms of a President who counted them as one of his base constituencies, greens are now faced with an administration that has openly expressed hostility to Federal environmental regulations and climate change treaty-making. President Trump, it’s often recounted, has said he believes climate change to be a hoax concocted by China.
The political landscape is undoubtedly more challenging for American greens, but there’s an opportunity here for them to become smarter, better advocates for the environment. This new administration won’t be swayed by dogmatic thinking or moralizing on green issues, but it could be persuaded by the economic benefits of certain clean energy sectors. Bloomberg reports:
Many Republicans, including the president, have been unmoved by environmental or scientific arguments that federal policies should support clean energy as a way to combat global warming. They may be swayed by the 360,000 jobs provided by wind and solar in the U.S. last year, business executives and environmentalists said Friday at a climate-change conference in Chicago. […]
“The jobs part of the conversation has certainly intensified,” Bruno Sarda, NRG Energy Inc.’s head of sustainability, said in an interview.
The name of the game for environmentalists must now be jobs—not some debt owed to future generations or the need to protect species other than our own. Those other goals have merit, to be sure, but they aren’t convincing, particularly when it comes to politics.
But cold, hard economic data can be very persuasive. Modern greens are now going to have to couch their policy arguments in these terms purely because they no longer have any other options, but this is the approach they should have started with. Browbeating the public over energy consumption or trying to extol the virtues of donning the hair shirt can be effective motivational tactics for people who are already convinced that these are top-priority problems, but those strategies only serve to alienate those who haven’t already bought in.
By contrast, cheaper power bills or hundreds of thousands of new jobs have a universal appeal. The shale boom has dramatically increased U.S. production of natural gas, bringing the price of the hydrocarbon down to bargain levels and incentivizing its consumption over the much dirtier burning coal. In that respect, fracking has been a force for green good in America, and it has helped keep a lid on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions while adding jobs, increasing our energy security, and giving the overall economy a welcome boost.
But instead of lauding this as the sustainable green progress that it is, environmentalists have demonized shale, preferring instead to back solar and wind technologies that struggle to compete without significant government subsidies. That strategy isn’t going to fly with President Trump, so environmentalists are going to have to change their course if they want their cause to thrive.
Trump has made it crystal clear that he’s no friend of the greens, but his presidency could end up forcing the modern environmental movement to make the tactical changes it has for years so desperately needed. Adapt, or die.