Under President Donald Trump, the United States has shunned its already tepid moves towards sustainable energy and technology. The biggest about-face was America’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Beyond that, West Virginia coal is back in fashion, American automakers no longer have to meet fuel consumption goals, and the EPA has essentially been gutted from the inside out.
It’s not a good time for environmentalists in the United States. Yet even as President Trump tries to undo all of the progress that the American government has made (which, honestly, hasn’t been much), sustainable technology is here to stay. At this point, market forces and global geopolitics are turning against whatever President Trump might desire. Let’s look at some of the more recent developments to understand what that means.
Make Coal Great Again? It’s Too Late
On the campaign trail, President Trump promised to make coal great again. He was going to bring back coal jobs. Problem is, much of the coal mining process has been automated, and markets are shifting away from coal regardless. Consider, for example, that sustainable energy now accounts for 2.3 solar jobs to every coal job in 2015.
In total, solar energy accounted just under 375,000 jobs. Only petroleum accounted for more, about 515,000 jobs. Coal? Just 160,000 jobs. Bio-energy, meanwhile, accounted for roughly 130,000 jobs, while wind totaled just over 100,000.
Further, coal investments are drying up. Last year, it was reported that nearly half of all American coal producers had declared bankruptcy at one point or another. Unless those companies diversify, bankruptcies are likely to continue even if President Trump tries to throw his support behind the industry.
Coal is yesteryear’s energy technology and nothing is going to change that. Laughably, the American government has been trying, to no avail, to promote coal at climate talks. Coal is simply too dirty to burn, and too difficult to extract. For power companies, it’s a hassle to use as well.
Trump Gutted MPG Goals For Automakers, But They Don’t Care
American trucks are selling well. Americans have always had an infactuation with pickup trucks and other SUVs. These vehicles are comfy, roomy, and are usually a pleasure to drive. They also offer a lot of utility. Anyone working in construction or who has to haul a lot of stuff already knows that a pickup truck is immensely useful.
American trucks have made huge headway in regards to miles per gallon. This has been spurred by both markets and government regulations. Even with gasoline prices as low as they are, many consumers still remember the pressure high prices put on their wallet. Meanwhile, MPG measurements are easy to find and thus easy to consider when comparing vehicles. Many consumers pay close attention to MPG ratings.
The Obama administration put in aggressive mile per gallon goals following the collapse of the American auto industry. Before 2007, American automakers were heavily reliant on trucks and SUVs. After the financial collapse, those Americans who were buying new automobiles were often opting for smaller and cheaper cars.
The Obama and Bush administrations bailed out automobile companies. However, the government also forced American automakers to produce vehicles that were easier on the gas tank. It worked. American auto companies diversified. All-electric cars and hybrids have become hot technologies, but conventional gasoline engines became more efficient as well.
Not all doom and gloom
While Trump has rolled back some of the government’s measures, automobile companies are going to continue to pursue green technology. In fact, General Motors has announced that it will eventually transition away from convention gasoline engines all-together While the company has not set a timeline for this transition, it has stated that one day General Motors will sell only electric and other sustainably driven cars.
General Motors already has their popular Bolt and Volt plugins on the road. Ford also has some electric cars for sale, although their all-electric ranges and prices aren’t quite as attractive as GM’s. Ford’s Fusion hybrid has sold well, however.
Besides better eMPG ratings, electric cars offer other benefits. They run quieter, which means cabin noise can be all but eliminated. Acceleration is much more even, and generally quicker. Tesla’s all electric luxury sedans, for example, can beat many super exotics on the drag strip. The fastest Tesla Model S’s can hit 60 miles per hour in less than 2.5 seconds. In fact, a Tesla Model S is faster than nearly every Chevrolet Corvette production model.
Where the Government Will Fail, Markets Will Pursue
There’s no easy fix for the gutting of the EPA. While stories of internal EPA resistance abound, the Trump administration has rolled back much of the agency’s efforts. Since the White House sets the tone and direction for the EPA, internal resistance won’t be enough to keep the agency on track.
Yet as the points above illustrate, markets are going to continue to encourage sustainable energy. Quite simply, sustainable energies now provide too many competitive advantages for companies to overlook. Earlier government regulations and subsidies were enough to jumpstart America’s sustainable energy ambitions. Add in the efforts of thought leaders like Elon Musk at Tesla Motors, and conditions bode well for America’s private sector sustainable energy ambitions.
Of course, more government support and regulations would speed up the development of sustainable energy. Regardless, while Trump can pull America out of the Paris Agreement, he won’t be able to halt the growth of the sustainable technology sector. As companies pursue green technology, they will produce profits while also helping to build a more sustainable world. This doesn’t mean that environmentalists can or should take it easy, of course. Maintaining pressure on the American government and companies could help spur a more rapid transition to green tech.