OPED: The future is clean energy — will we benefit?

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

Last week, I watched in awe as the Falcon Heavy rocket (and its payload of a Tesla Roadster) launched from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Donald Trump tweeted at SpaceX and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk “Congratulations @ElonMusk and @SpaceX on the successful #FalconHeavy launch. This achievement, along with @NASA’s commercial and international partners, continues to show American ingenuity at its best!”  Elon Musk, a South African immigrant, (but that’s another opinion essay for later) tweeted back, “Thank you on behalf of SpaceX. An exciting future lies ahead!” 

I have to say one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen is the live feed of Elon’s cherry-red Tesla Roadster, complete with a mannequin wearing a spacesuit strapped into the driver seat with his arm propped up on the driver door, rocketing into space at about 25,300 mph with the earth cruising by in the background. What an inspiring sight. I whole-heartedly agree with Elon’s assessment of our future.

Many do not realize Elon’s purpose for starting up Tesla: to wean the world from fossil fuels.  Tesla’s “About” statement online reads: “Tesla builds not only all-electric vehicles but also infinitely scalable clean energy generation and storage products. Tesla believes the faster the world stops relying on fossil fuels and moves towards a zero-emission future, the better.”  There are plenty of signs the world is moving away from fossil fuels.

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In 2015, almost 200 nations signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, which essentially signaled the beginning of the end of the fossil fuels era.  Every country on earth signed the agreement and almost all are implementing policies which will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change.  Here at home, Donald Trump has announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the agreement and is betting our economy on the misguided belief that other countries will follow. But no one is following, because the rest of the world seems to understand the one thing Donald Trump can’t seem to grasp - climate change is not a hoax and addressing climate change makes economic sense.

In this April 15, 2015 photo provided by the United States Geological Survey, a polar bear wearing a GPS video-camera collar lies on a chunk of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. A new study released on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018 shows some polar bears in the Arctic are shedding pounds during the time they are supposed to be beefing up. Scientists blame climate change for shrinking the ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that the polar bears need for hunting. (Anthony Pagano/USGS via AP)

Every nation except ours is putting a plan in place to reduce emissions by reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and boost clean, carbon-free forms of energy. Last March, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), along with the International Energy Agency (IEA), produced a study which said the share of renewable energy needs to increase to 65 percent of the primary energy supply in 2050, from about 15 percent in 2015 in an attempt to keep warming within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), of pre-industrial conditions.

Bloomberg reported, according to the study, “Efforts to slow climate change won’t just keep the planet habitable. They will also boost the world economy by $19 trillion...That sweeping transformation of the energy sector could also force fossil fuel companies to leave $10 trillion of coal, oil, gas and other assets stranded underground and elsewhere, according to Abu Dhabi-based International Renweable Energy Agency (IRENA). The investment in renewables and energy efficiency, however, would more than offset these losses and create about 6 million jobs, IRENA found.”

Last month, the World Bank announced it is officially phasing out its support for the oil and gas industries. The World Bank provides developing countries about $60 billion in U.S. dollars a year in financial assistance. 

This image from video provided by SpaceX shows the company's spacesuit in Elon Musk's red Tesla sports car which was launched into space during the first test flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (SpaceX via AP)

Just this week the Independent reported: “The European Union will refuse to sign trade deals with countries that do not ratify the Paris climate change agreement and take steps to combat global warming, under a new Brussels policy. Cecilia Malmstrom‏, the EU’s trade chief, said a binding reference to the Paris agreement would be needed in all EU trade agreements from now on. The move effectively means the 500-million-citizen bloc is throwing its trade might behind tackling climate change.” 

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Trillions of dollars will be spent creating a green energy economy which will create millions of jobs. America can be a leader in addressing climate change while at the same time, boost our economy. However, with President Donald Trump’s denial and promoting of policies to keep us reliant on fossil fuels, America seems destined to come in dead last in the race to get a slice of the $19 trillion clean energy pie. As a climate advocate, and as a 401K investor, I am alarmed at the direction of our president. 

Congress can get us a chunk of that pie by passing “fee and dividend” legislation. Fee and dividend would put a steadily-rising price on greenhouse gases, with all fees collected, minus administrative costs, being rebated to households as a monthly energy dividend. Studies show, that in just 20 years, fee and dividend could reduce our carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to our economy. Fee and dividend would put America’s ingenuity to work building a clean energy economy to benefit us all.

— Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster.