Green Jobs and Intergenerational Justice: Trump’s Climate Order Undermines Both
With the stroke of a pen, President Trump has written off both the biggest economic development opportunity of the twenty-first century, and the security of today’s young people, future generations and the other species inhabiting this planet. Or so it seems.
The White House’s “Energy Independence Executive Order” is clearly a blow to the progress made under the Obama Administration to fight climate change and transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. The new Order aims to rescind the Clean Power Plan, lift a moratorium on coal mining on federal land and roll back regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas fields. It comes on the heels of Trump’s official approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. These actions are supposedly meant to boost jobs, but the only thing they actually boost is the already enormous share of fossil fuel profits.
A review of the numbers indicates that this is indeed not about jobs. Keystone XL, for example, would result in only 35 long-term jobs post-construction, according to State Department analysis. By contrast, the wind power industry employed 88,000 Americans at the start of 2016, and wind power technician is now the fastest growing profession in the nation. In electric power generation, solar provides more jobs than coal, oil and natural gas combined. According to an Environmental Defense Fund report, both solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. In almost every state, there are now more jobs in the clean energy sector than in fossil fuels. For a president that claims to be so intent on creating jobs, ignoring renewables and energy efficiency in favor of fossil fuel exploitation is simply irrational.
It is also completely irresponsible and immoral. Intergenerational equity tends to be overlooked in the climate change conversation, yet it is an important dimension of the issue. Decision-makers have spent decades expanding the fossil fuel economy and running up a huge carbon debt – and their children and grandchildren will be forced to foot the bill. According to a 2016 report by Demos and NextGen Climate, failing to make steep cuts in emissions will cost the Millennial generation nearly $8.8 trillion in lost lifetime income. Beyond this financial implication, exacerbating climate change threatens the very survival of future generations and most other life on Earth. According to famed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, the climate crisis implies “young people and future generations inheriting a situation in which grave consequences are assured,” and it “requires urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on Earth.” But instead of changing course, the Trump Administration’s fossil fuel frenzy in effect mortgages the future of my generation and those to follow.
Of course this all-out assault on clean air, clean water, and a stable climate will not go unchallenged. Citizens and activists are already gearing up to fight back in the streets and in the courts. One lawsuit in particular pits the federal government and fossil fuel industry against a group of youth plaintiffs, with a trial expected later this year that observers are billing as “the trial of the century.” And following in the spirit and scope of the Women’s March, tens of thousands of people will gather in Washington DC and other cities on April 29th to take part in the People’s Climate March.
State and local governments are also taking action to move forward on addressing the climate crisis. Maryland lawmakers just passed a bill to ban fracking, which the state’s Republican governor is slated to sign. A handful of states in the northeast and on the West Coast currently have pending legislation to implement a fee on carbon pollution. Hawaii has a mandate for 100 percent clean energy electricity by 2045. Municipalities all across the country are taking steps to slash carbon and transition quickly to entirely renewable energy. These and other initiatives become ever more important in this alarming age of science skepticism and “alternative facts.”
What this all comes down to is a power struggle between the ruling elite class of billionaires and the greater populace. Ultimately the authority to govern is derived from the people. We can and must use our collective people power to counter the greed of the fossil fuel industry and the big money polluting our politics. Most importantly, we must continue to fight and refuse to give up.