As the Trump administration sets to work gutting environmental regulations, the best weapon for battling climate change in the U.S. may be jobs.
Many Republicans, including the president, have been unmoved by environmental or scientific arguments that federal policies should support clean energy as a way to combat global warming. They may be swayed by the 360,000 jobs provided by wind and solar in the U.S. last year, business executives and environmentalists said Friday at a climate-change conference in Chicago.
Economics have long been at the center of arguments supporting wind and solar power. But as President Donald Trump pushes to boost fossil fuel production and cede U.S. leadership on fighting climate change, clean energy advocates are talking about employment more than ever.
“There is nothing that matters more to politicians than jobs and ribbon cuttings,’’ Bob Keefe, executive director of the non-profit group Environmental Entrepreneurs, said during a speech at the event. “They need to hear from business people that this is driving growth.’’
“The jobs part of the conversation has certainly intensified,” Bruno Sarda, NRG Energy Inc.’s head of sustainability, said in an interview.
It won’t be easy to convince conservative Washington lawmakers that global warming is a pressing threat, even with economic arguments, Mike Quigley, a Democratic congressman from Illinois, said in a speech.
“The majority of the people I serve with in the House are climate deniers,’’ Quigley said. “They don’t believe in science.’’
The conference, hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and two non-profit groups, drew representatives from General Electric Co., MetLife Inc. and dozens of other large U.S. companies. Rob Threlkeld, global manager of renewable energy for General Motors Co., said the automaker is pushing to source all of its power from clean sources by 2050 because that’s what consumers want.
“Our customers and our shareholders are more and more inquiring about what we are doing about sustainability,’’ Threlkeld said.
It’s crucial that lawmakers hear from corporations that cutting emissions can be good for business, said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who has written about the effort to spread doubt about climate change.
“Who is better than the private sector to make the case that appropriate policy can actually strengthen markets?’’ she said in a speech.