June 2, 2017
With the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, President Donald Trump has put the United States on the wrong side of history. The U.S. now joins only two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, in standing on the sidelines in the fight against climate change. While this decision may further tarnish the reputation of the United States on the world stage, it can’t stop the inevitable transition to the low carbon global economy of the future.
As a CEO, I often have to make decisions that meet the short term needs of my business without undermining our long term competitiveness. I’ve made capital investments in our St. Albans, Vermont ice cream factory that reduce energy use and thus the costs we pay to buy energy from the grid. Instead of making that investment in efficiency, I could have put more money to my bottom line in that particular quarter, but it would have cost me down the road and made me less competitive in the marketplace in the long term. Our withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a bad short term decision that undermines both the long term health of our planet and the future competitiveness of the United States in the global economy. As our first real CEO President, I’d hoped Donald Trump would understand the importance of ensuring that short term decisions don't undermine our ability to be competitive in the future. Regardless of what President Trump says, as a CEO I know that climate change is the real job killer, not the Paris Climate Agreement.
Despite this decision there is much good news. It is clear that the global economy is transitioning away from polluting fossil fuels to cleaner renewable sources. Solar energy is now the fastest growing source of energy in the world, driven not by regulation but market forces. The spectacular drop in the cost of generating energy from the sun has led to a doubling of solar capacity every 20 months. In the United States, solar-energy jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy at large, and a recent Department of Energy report shows more than five times as many American paychecks come from working in the renewable energy than the fossil fuel industry. Coal jobs are not coming back but the growth in the clean energy and tech sectors is more than offsetting the decline in fossil fuel jobs.
We’re seeing the positive impacts of this transition right here at home in Vermont. We recently brought a solar array online at our Waterbury, Vermont ice cream factory. The solar array generates nearly 20% of the energy we use at the plant at a price that is lower than what I was paying to purchase electricity from the grid. Even better, that price is locked in place for the life of the array, something I could never do with traditional fossil fuel energy sources. The project at our plant is part of a larger transition to solar in the state of Vermont which is greening our grid and creating new jobs and economic growth. In fact, Vermont now has the second highest per capita solar jobs in the country, despite our long dark winters.
Whether Donald Trump believes that climate change is real or a hoax just doesn’t matter to the global economy. Trump’s willingness to ignore the laws of science can’t change the fundamental laws of economics. As the cost of generating energy from clean renewable sources continues to drop it will only accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. This is good news for people and our planet. The only question is whether the U.S. will be positioned to take advantage of the economic growth and job creation that will come from being a leader in fight against climate change. Will the United States continue to be the world leader in innovation that drives the clean energy economy or will U.S. companies and workers be left behind by China and Europe?
I remain deeply committed to working with the many CEOs and business leaders representing trillions of dollars in revenue that strongly supported the Paris Agreement. As a business community, we're proud to stand with the millions of Americans who care about the climate crisis and have been taking to the streets in demonstrations like the Peoples Climate March to show their support for clean energy solutions. If President Trump won’t provide the leadership required to fight climate change, create jobs, and drive innovation and economic growth, then the rest of us will.
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