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A letter to Mr. Trump: the economic case for energy, equity and climate leadership

Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy | November 15, 2016

Summary: The economic case for clean energy is as compelling as is the climate science. Pursuing both brings together economic advancement and political leadership.

The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the installation of a team at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy who are climate change skeptics stands in the face of not only established science, but also of an unambiguous record of data that clean energy projects simply generate more jobs than those in the fossil fuel sector (Wei et al, 2010).

windmills300With solar and wind energy projects reaching prices in the 2.5 – 4 US cent/kWh range, the economic case for clean energy is as compelling as is the case for clean energy as the fastest way to provide energy access to the global poor, boosting their economic opportunities and capacity (Alstone, Gershenson and Kammen, 2015). This dramatic growth in the capacity and power of clean energy to meet economic needs in the U. S. (Mileva, et. al., 2016) and abroad means that a simple economic argument exists to be bullish on clean energy even before the local and global environmental benefits.  The economic benefits of these clean energy projects are even more profound if combined with domestic manufacturing campaigns around electric vehicles, which brings an entirely new research and company growth angle to the high-tech sector.

In a report we recently released in London, the findings are clear that renewable energy options, in some cases supported by natural gas, and in others without, are a faster route out of energy and economic poverty than coal energy projects, which often get in the way of economic growth and empowerment (Granoff, et. al., 2016).

Many of the challenges we are seeing today globally relate to issues where clean energy can play a vital mitigating role.  The resource demands of mega-cities translate directly into massive costs, economically and heath damaging pollution, and politically costly unrest.  In a recent assessment (Kammen and Sunter, 2016) we have found that the capacity for new technologies to turn urban areas into healthier sites of greater and greater levels of self-generation address all these evils.  The production and export of the mixture of clean energy and water technologies, and of the smart sensors, energy storage technologies, and the efficient systems needed to implement these innovations, is a global growth industry that can make the Paris Climate Accords a new pillar of economic growth and political stability.

A sound, economically empowering, energy plan would not be complete without a focus on these energy opportunities, a situation made more compelling because the global energy markets are embracing the clean energy transition.  Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Nicaragua, China, and many other nations are examples of places seeing a merging of the business and environmental case to push for and beyond the Paris Climate Accord goals.

My laboratory is modeling the energy transition opportunities in each of these nations (http://rael.berkeley.edu/project/SWITCH), and the results consistently find that the clean energy dominated path is the best economic path as well. These nations are building giga-watt scale clean energy power plants, and ramping up the innovation and industrial sectors at the same time.    Sub-national regionals are pursuing these energy strategies in great numbers, too, with the “Under 2 degree MOU” (http://under2mou.org) an example of the fast and diverse pace of these programs.

The smart money is on clean energy.  The U. S. would be turning its back on both economic and leadership opportunities by not pursuing these goals.  A president who claims to be a populist would be a hypocrite do anything but actively promote and campaign for a sustainable climate and the clean energy business that goes with it, and to do so in ways that promotes energy access, equality, and environmental justice.   These are all pro-business, pro-worker positions.  As the activity at CPP22 in Marrakech attests, the world will be pursing clean energy and climate friendly goals with or without the United States; it would be folly not to want to lead and profit from this transition.

References:

Alstone, P., Gershenson, D. and Kammen, D. M. (2015) “Decentralized energy systems for clean electricity access,“ Nature Climate Change, 5, 305 – 314.

Granoff, I., Ryan, J. R. Hogarth, Wykes, S., Doig, A., with Bodnar, P., van der Bergh, L., Ganesa, K., Jain, A., Devine, L., Kammen, D., Leopold, A., Locke, A., Krishnaswamy, S., Morrissey, J., Pickard, S., Peuyo, A., Scott, A., Thilakisiri, S., Tumiwa, F., Whitley, S., (2016) Beyond coal: Scaling up clean energy to fight poverty (Overseas Development Institute, London, UK). https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/10964.pdf

Gang He, Anne-Perrine Avrin, James H. Nelson, Josiah Johnston, Ana Mileva,  Jianwei Tian, and Daniel M. Kammen (2016) “SWITCH-China: A Systems Approach to Decarbonizing China’s Power System”, Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), 50(11): 5467–5473.

Mileva, A., Johnston, J., Nelson, J. H., and Kammen, D. M. (2016) “Power system balancing for deep decarbonization of the electricity sector,“ Applied Energy 162, 1001–1009.

Kammen, Daniel M., and Sunter, Deborah A. (2016) “City-integrated renewable energy for urban sustainability,” Science, 352, 922 – 928.

Wei, M., Patadia, S. and Kammen, D. M. (2010) “Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the U. S.?” Energy Policy, 38, 919 – 931.

Comments to “A letter to Mr. Trump: the economic case for energy, equity and climate leadership

  1. Prof. Kammen, according to lessons of history studied for over 40 years and documented by Will and Ariel Durant, when our political and intellectual leaders fail to meet the challenges of change civilizations decline and fall, presumably until the human race eventually develops a destructive capability that gets completely out of control.

    We have failed to control atmospheric CO2 and global warming temperature rise fast enough, creating far too many other destructive consequences/tipping point failures today, which also make destructive worldwide social behaviors including violence and inequalities more chaotic, and no world political or intellectual leaders have solutions we can implement today. In fact, because of the election and new regime in Washington, no one seems to take global warming seriously enough to do anything with any sense of urgency at all.

    If you have proof to the contrary, please reconsider informing those of us considered to be the “general public” that intellectuals have considered for far too long to be unworthy of being communicated with. Maybe We The General Public can actually help to protect quality of life for our newest and future generations from our current political and intellectual failures in leadership if you finally choose to inform, educate and motivate us to demand actions in time.

    You might have noticed the democratic party just failed to give a damn about the working class before the election and now they control nothing in Washington (POTUS, SCOTUS, Senate and House), so please try to motivate your intellectual colleagues to prevent the state of our civllization from becoming anymore chaotic than our political and intellectual leaders already have. Or have the Durants, Dirks, Hofstadter and social scientists already proven that our survival is hopeless.

  2. Prof. Kammen, one of our greatest failures is the marginalization of the 2006 CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE SPECIAL “Global Warning” ISSUE:

    http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/september-october-2006-global-warning

    The most important cover story/global warning was “Can we adapt in time?” and another most important story was “Global warning—the hotspots” among those produced by Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

    The paramount question still remains “Can we adapt in time?”

    • P.S. AVERAGE GLOBAL TEMPERATURE VS ATMOSPHERIC CO2 “HOCKEY STICK” GRAPH

      Most “alarmingly,” the 2006 CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE “GLOBAL WARNING” SPECIAL ISSUE (page 25) illustrates 1000 years of history proving the undeniable correlation of atmospheric C02 and global temperature, with the most dramatic “hockey stick” rises occurring since 1900, a most in convenient truth which we have failed to emphasize to the general public because of our continuing worst case scenario failure to communicate with two-way conversations.

      This fact of life appears to be because, as former Chancellor Dirks quoted from a statement by Richard Hofstadter (documented in a 2013 issue of CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE): “— so many intellectuals don’t want to take on the sort of complications and impurities that come with being public” subjecting us to increasingly out of control threats to the survival of our civilization because two-way conversations are discouraged by an intellectual culture that is also subservient to the power of money as “gravely” warned by President Eisenhower in his 1961 Farewell Address.

      So we continue to fail to meet the challenges of change again at our increasing peril, a failure mode that Will and Ariel Durant warned us about repeatedly in “The Story of Civilization.”

      In addition to the most famous warning on the 1971 Earth Day Pogo poster: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

      Again, “Can we adapt in time?”

      • ANSWER TO: “Can we adapt in time?”

        The answer is “No” because most academics do not allow two-way conversations between themselves and the general public, and they won’t join together to fight for solutions to our most important challenges such as global warming so academics have no credibility with far too many people as a consequence.

  3. A Paramount Challenge of Change That Must Be Overcome In 2017:

    We Keep Failing to Think

    Over two millennia ago Confucius observed “learning without thinking is useless and thinking without learning is dangerous” which a most important lesson of history we keep failing to learn at our increasing peril today.

    So most recently, Neil deGrasse Tyson observed “We think of education all too often as, a student walks into a classroom with an empty mind and then you pour stuff into the head, and now they’re educated” because “at no time are you actually trained how to think, how to analyze, how to process information, how to judge information.” He observed that consequences include “Humans aren’t killing the planet, just the people on it.”

    We can only hope and pray that academics shall learn from lessons of history in time to protect and perpetuate an acceptable quality of life for the human race in 2017.

    As you and your colleagues keep documenting, the consequences of global warming shall include increasingly out of control weather, violence and inequalities if we don’t.

    • This comment is absolutely on target.

      One of the many key lessons from the 2016 election is that we will all have to get better very rapidly at listening and learning from those with whom we initially may think we only disagree to find areas to work together. It is sad and too bad that it seems to take these potentially turning-point events to get this sort of conversation going, but figuring out where we can move beyond the ideology and rhetoric based on shared recognition of facts seems to be in very short supply at present.

  4. I note a number of names of renewables advocates in the list of signatories – Benjamin Sovacool, Mark Jacobson – but no proponent of nuclear power – Dr James Hansen for example. Considering that nuclear makes twenty percent of the USA’s electricity, and solar about one percent, and that, according to the IPCC, nuclear power has a carbon footprint per kw/hr about half that of solar, and roughly equal to wind, even without considering that fossil fuels are currently used to balance the gaps in intermittent generation, some more thought in the drafting of this letter would have been preferable.

    • For a really useful debate on nuclear power, that illustrates the arguments on both sides, do see the exchange in Science magazine:

      2 DECEMBER 2016 SCIENCE sciencemag.org • VOL 354 ISSUE 6316 pages 1112 – 1113

      between:

      Philip Johnstone, Benjamin K. Sovacool, Gordon MacKerron, Andy Stirling

      and Amory Lovins

      and Junji Cao, Armond Cohen, James Hansen, Richard Lester, Per Peterson,
      Staffan A. Qvist, Hong jie Xu

      This captures the current challenges, and the future hope/potential of nuclear power from several important angles.

  5. Today the average cost of energy from solar PV in U.S. is reported to be 12.2 cents per kWh.
    The starting levelized cost of energy from wind in the U.S. is reported to be 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

    • PatL
      ‘Today the average cost of energy from solar PV in U.S. is reported to be 12.2 cents per kWh.
      The starting levelized cost of energy from wind in the U.S. is reported to be 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour.’
      Do you have a link for these figures ? Thanks.

  6. Could this message be framed in the following way and published as a joint letter in various media outlets AND read by climate change skeptics? See below. Edit out any errors resulting from concision suggestions:
    —————————————————————————–
    Summary: The economic case for clean energy based on compelling climate science. Pursuing clean energy brings economic gains while enhancing environmental sustainability – resulting in a more stable social order.

    Though environmental concerns were raised during the national campaign, there is reason for hope, despite climate change skeptics projected to move into the EPA and DOE. Established science coupled with solid data has shown clean energy projects generate more jobs than those in the fossil fuel sector (Wei et al, 2010).

    The economic case for clean energy is strong: solar and wind energy projects prices are in the 2.5 – 4 US cent/kWh range. For the U.S, that means clean energy’s dramatic growth in capacity and power can meet our economic needs (Mileva, et. al., 2016). For the U.S, the enormous economic benefits of clean energy projects are more profound when combined with domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles or other similar innovations, a transition that would bring not only new research jobs but also needed manufacturing jobs resulting from clean-energy company growth.

    A recently released report clearly found renewable energy options (in some cases supported by natural gas) are also a faster route out of energy and economic poverty than coal energy projects that deter economic growth and lose stable jobs (Granoff, et. al., 2016).

    More broadly, clean energy would help create a more stable world order since it is the fastest way to provide energy access to the global poor — boosting currently missing economic opportunities and capacity (Alstone, Gershenson and Kammen, 2015.

    In fact, many global challenges could be addressed with clean energy playing a vital role.  For example, mega-cities’ resource demands result in massive costs with economic and heath-damaging pollution – leading to politically costly unrest.  Our recent assessment (Kammen and Sunter, 2016) found new technologies can turn urban areas into healthier sites with greater levels of self-generation that will address these inherent large-city issues. By facing these issues with production / export of clean energy and water technologies, including smart sensors, energy storage technologies, and efficient systems for implementation –a global growth industry is created that makes the Paris Climate Accords a critical new pillar of economic growth and political stability. Also addressed is the problem of U.S. economic growth with increased job options that alleviate environmental pollution and natural resource degradation.

    We suggest the new administration examine this clear path to a sound, economically empowering energy plan.

    This path is compelling because global energy markets are already embracing the clean energy transition. For example, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Nicaragua, China, and others are successfully merging business with environmental direction– not simply to push Paris Climate Accord goals but to address the obvious worse results if the known planetary environmental changes are not addressed. My laboratory is modeling energy transition opportunities in each of these nations (see http://rael.berkeley.edu/project/SWITCH). Results consistently found the clean energy dominated path is the best economic path. Specifically, these nations are building giga-watt scale clean energy power plants while ramping up innovation and industrial sectors. Many sub-national regionals are also pursuing these energy strategies with the “Under 2 degree MOU” (http://under2mou.org), an example of the fast and diverse pace of the clean energy programs. With or without the United States, the world will be pursing clean energy and climate friendly goals (see activity at CPP22 in Marrakech).

    Therefore, smart money is on clean energy.  Not pursing these goals means the U. S. would turn its back on wise economic and leadership opportunities. This is an especially good investment opportunity for a new president who campaigned as a populist. Actively promoting this smart economic way to reach a sustainable climate — promoting clean energy businesses — is obviously good for business and for workers. 

    The U.S. can be a world leader while also addressing pressing our own economic concerns. Such a political move will address current divisive political turmoil. Quite simply, it is an opportunity that benefits everyone.

    ——
    Include bibliography

  7. I think we should go further, making the case that the government should directly nudge new industry into these stricken regions like the Rust Belt and coal country. One idea for an article would be titled ‘Coal Jobs are Dead, but a Carbon Tax Could Revitalize Coal Country’. I’m sure the idea is not a new one: reinvest some of the new revenue from a carbon tax back into the areas hardest hit by the transition from 20th century energy to 21st century energy, to help bring them into the 21st century. But I think this idea could be powerful at a time when coal workers are throwing their support behind anyone who acknowledges their right to exist (Trump). I think it could convince a lot of them to support carbon pricing. I also think it would help quell the accusations on the right that the left is waging a war on coal. We obviously need to move away from coal, and eventually natural gas, but I don’t think anyone on the political spectrum would argue the people who lose their jobs from happenstance deserve a life of poverty. And maybe, if their constituency sees it as a common-sense solution, congressional representatives from W.V., Kentucky, etc, could go along with the carbon tax.

  8. Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college primarily because two critical states–Pennsylvania and Ohio– went for Trump. In fact, I think Bernie Sanders would have lost these states, too, because both are coal producing/fracking states with a lot of coal workers laid off. Ultimately, people don’t care about research or models or scientific evidence. What they want is good paying jobs in their own home towns.

    Trump knows this and he knows that the most important thing for being re-elected (or having a family member elected after him) is to be seen as supporting the fossil fuel industry so these same people will vote for him again. I realized Trump was likely to win as soon as it became clear that both democratic candidates were concerned about climate change while he was a climate change denier. Gore also won the popular vote but lost the electoral college.

    It would be very helpful if you could apply your models specifically to states like Pennsylvania and Ohio and then work to convince renewable energy companies to set up major operations in these two states, hiring former and current fossil energy workers. This may require also running models to show companies why these states would be good locations for setting up shop and hiring lots of workers. If you could apply your wonderful skills to that purpose, it would probably help the fight against climate change as much as anything.

    Thank you so much for your important research!

  9. Reading this letter, my first thought—after appreciating the economic/jobs argument for clean energy–was that, if I were Donald Trump, I might feel defensive. I don’t want to be called a hypocrite (even in the future tense.) I believe that I am always right. I think that if you suggest to Donald Trump that he is wrong, he will shut down and stop reading right there. Also, I think that expecting him to buy the whole package, “equality and environmental justice”, is unrealistic. That would be expecting him to change the way in which he perceives the world.

    I am wondering if he would be more likely to hear this information if he were offered it as a way to be successful, e. g. “ A pro-business, pro-worker president will promote and campaign for a sustainable climate because of the clean energy business that goes with it. The international climate conference in Marrakech this week attests that the world will be pursuing clean energy with or without the United States; the United States and its president have the opportunity to lead and profit from this transition.”

    Perhaps a letter to Donald Trump instead of about Donald Trump, in terms that he can understand, will gain his attention.

    I think that’s what coming together is all about.

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