When the U.S. elected Donald Trump as its 45th
president, climate activists understandably got enormously worried. Trump had called global warming a hoax
created by China to damage the U.S. economically. He’d promised to remove the U.S. from the landmark Paris Agreement. He proclaimed he’d bring back coal jobs.
Now, however, many energy experts are saying there’s less reason to worry than previously thought. Renewable energy may continue its rise to prominence whether Trump likes it or not.
While on the campaign trail, Trump said
that clean energy like solar and wind power is expensive, too expensive to work on a large scale. As it turns out, that’s just not true. In some states, renewable energy is now cheaper
than coal and gas. This means it will continue to thrive for economic reasons, despite the president’s opinions on it.
Coal, especially, would be extraordinarily difficult to bring back, as Trump said he wants to do. Much of coal’s troubles were originally due to the affordability of natural gas
, not so much government regulations or renewable energy. So, coal’s fate is more closely linked to simple economics than to anything Trump could control.
To completely stop renewables, he would have to heavily subsidize fossil fuels while penalizing clean energy. It doesn’t seem likely that Trump would do that — or feasible, for that matter. The president-elect has said he wants to get rid of government regulations in the energy industry
in order to encourage innovation and let the free market decide what to do
, a move that would be bad for coal.
One Trump donor has said
that tax credits for renewables will continue under Trump, and many Republicans don’t want to suddenly change the rules on businesses.
Utility companies are not waiting to see what Trump does to start investing in new forms of energy. In fact, some are even working on plans that won’t even start until after Trump’s presidency, even if he stays for two terms. In short, four or even eight years is not that long on the calendar of energy production.
Renewables are often more efficient when it comes to time as well. A solar farm, for example, can be built much faster than coal plant can, allowing energy companies to keep up with shifts in demand.
Trump may actually have less influence over energy use than the campaign made it seem. State governments, local governments, corporations and individuals actually have quite a bit of power when it comes to power, and many of them aren’t looking to back off of renewables any time soon.
A recent poll found that 79% of Americans wanted more solar energy
, a notion which extends across party lines. Although there’s a divide in beliefs about climate change, a majority of supporters of both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidate said they support solar and wind farms
Corporations, too, have been widely supportive of renewable energy. Eighty major businesses
have thus far committed to aim for 100% clean energy. Companies like Tesla continue to innovate and create more effective and affordable environmentally friendly technology.
Another reason to be hopeful is Trump’s apparent backtracking on his climate views. In a recent interview with the New York Times
, he said he believes there’s a link between human activity and climate change, although he’s not sure how significant the link is.
He also backed off of his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate deal, saying only that he’s still looking into it.
A Reason to (Cautiously) Hope
Although a Trump presidency does not look great for climate change, there are some reasons for hope. A Trump presidency will probably do little to stop the renewable energy industry from continuing to expand. It may slow its progress, but it certainly won’t stop it.
Many scientists are worried, though, that even a slight faltering in addressing global warming could be disastrous. We have a very small window, they say, in which we can act before it becomes too late to avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. Some even say that window has already closed
No matter what Trump’s policies end up being, it’s important for individuals, corporations and government officials to act in favor of renewable energy. Luckily for renewables, economic forces, support from various people, businesses and organizations and maybe even a softening of Trump’s climate policies will continue to propel it to the forefront of power production.