Editor’s Note: Tom Steyer is a business leader and philanthropist, a co-chairman of the Risky Business Project and the president of NextGen Climate. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Climate change continues to be a major threat to America's future
Tom Steyer: Even if President-elect Donald Trump won't invest in the clean energy economy, the private sector must
Transitioning to clean energy will reduce risks of climate change, and create job opportunities across regions
American politics shifted drastically on November 8, but the scientific facts of climate change remain the same. This year will break all global temperature records by the biggest margins ever. We’re on a real hot streak – and not a good one. Worse yet, global sea-ice recently hit record lows, as temperatures in the Arctic Ocean rose more than 20 degrees. Mother Nature doesn’t negotiate – regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, climate change threatens America’s future.
Now, more than ever, it’s critical that US businesses reshape America’s energy infrastructure in a positive way and lead our country’s transition to clean energy. This week the Risky Business Project, which I chair with Mike Bloomberg and Hank Paulson, released a new report showing how an economy that runs on clean, low-carbon sources can create millions of jobs, all the while providing a critical boost to America’s economy. How? Well, electrifying our economy is key. This means adopting everything from electric cars to electric heating systems, scaling up our reliance on solar and wind power and pairing those technologies with low-carbon energy that’s used more efficiently.
The good news is that the vast majority of American businesses support taking urgent action on climate change and transitioning to clean energy. The six biggest financial institutions in America support a carbon price. BlackRock has warned investors to take stock of their climate change risks. Even Exxon-Mobil voiced support for remaining in the Paris agreement, in which 195 countries agree to act on climate change. Across the board, American businesses recognize that our economic prosperity depends upon addressing the climate crisis – and their voices are now needed more than ever.
Because despite having touted his supposed business savvy during his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump is now ignoring some of the most powerful businesses in America and instead working to delay – or even reverse – America’s progress on climate change. As any good business leader could tell him, the dangers of climate change won’t disappear simply because he chooses to ignore them; in fact, they’ll only get worse. Burying your head in the sand is for ostriches, not world leaders.
The private sector will need to invest in this transition at a scale and speed comparable to the computer revolution. Over the past decade, the United States has spent $350 billion on computers and software every year. By comparison, we need investment in the clean energy economy to reach $320 billion annually.
Businesses led the IT revolution, transforming the way we work and communicate. Similarly, businesses can help transform America’s economy to provide more energy, better services and a national transportation system that is cleaner and more efficient. Upfront capital expenditures in new energy infrastructure will also deliver healthy, long-term returns while reducing our annual fuel costs over time. Through 2050, businesses and consumers can expect an average of $366 billion per year in fuel savings.
Transitioning to clean energy will not only reduce America’s economic risk from climate change but will also increase the resilience of our infrastructure, protect public health and create job opportunities across regions and sectors of the economy. Wind power will create jobs in the wind-rich central regions, while the sunny western and southern regions will profit from solar. New local jobs will be created in manufacturing, construction and utilities. In construction alone, 800,000 new jobs are expected by 2050.
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Make no mistake, this transition is already underway, and the markets are trending toward clean energy. In many places, the cost curves have already been crossed. The costs of solar and wind technologies have been plummeting over the last several years, and are projected to keep doing so over the next decade. Since 2008, for instance, rooftop solar costs have dropped by 54%.
In 2015, clean energy investments outpaced those by oil and gas companies. This is good news, because we know that by midcentury we will need to have reduced our carbon pollution by a formidable 80%, and this transition won’t happen overnight. One thing is clear: We can’t afford to go backward. Now is not the time to build fossil fuel power plants that will operate for half a century.
Clean energy will make us healthier, safer and more prosperous. A retreat to a fossil fuel economy will risk our nation’s health, wealth and global leadership. If our next president refuses to take action, American business people must, more than ever, lead this transition for the sake of our climate, our country and our economic security – and for their bottom lines.