(This piece is also published at The Energy Collective)
On the morning of November 8th, the path to avert climate catastrophe by transitioning to clean energy was clearer than ever.
Just days before, the historic Paris Climate Agreement had officially entered into force. The costs of solar and wind energy, having fallen drastically in recent years, were projected to fall nearly 60 percent more by 2025. The latest International Energy Agency projections pegged renewables as the world’s fastest-growing electricity source, and estimated that by 2021 they will account for 41 percent of global electricity. And, as of the morning of November 8th, the United States appeared on the verge of electing a president with the stated mission of installing half a billion solar panels, fully implementing the Clean Power Plan and accelerating the clean energy momentum built over eight years by the outgoing Obama Administration.
There was plenty more to be done, surely, but progress was discernible. Exciting, even. But as the morning of November 8th passed into an unexpected night, the promising path that took years to build muddied with uncertainty as it crumbled beneath our feet.
So. How bad is it?
The President-elect has said he would cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and promised to roll back President Obama’s executive actions on climate change. At a time when global climate cooperation is delicate and urgency is required, America’s President-elect is the lone world leader who has declared climate change isn’t real. He has promised to boost the nation’s oil, natural gas and coal production by scrapping regulations and increasing drilling on federal lands. His lead energy and climate advisors include Myron Ebell, a climate skeptic who has called the Clean Power Plan illegal, and Harold Hamm, an oil driller whose main stated priority is the removal of oil and gas safeguards.
While the market will continue to march clean energy forward, this administration could significantly change the American energy trajectory, simultaneously altering the trajectory of global carbon emissions. Researchers estimate a Trump administration will mean 3.4 billion more tons of U.S. carbon emissions than a Clinton administration, the rough equivalent of the carbon emissions of all 28 countries which compose the European Union.
Make no mistake, any vision of a clean energy transition in a time frame to avoid climate catastrophe is under attack. The United States, and the world, is in danger of losing much hard fought ground at a time when accelerated progress is essential. If the effort falters now, the President-elect and his administration are invited to do the irreparable damage they appear intent on carrying out. Talk has already begun of a brain drain at the Department of Energy as talent avoids working under such a misguided administration.
If mounting signs of progress had cajoled clean energy backers into any sense of comfort, November 8th dashed such delusions. We are officially back in a full-blown, five alarm, crisis. Which, as Rahm Emanuel said during the dark days of 2008, would be a terrible thing to waste. For while serious crises test us, they can also motivate and inspire us. They can mobilize us to action.
The clean energy movement needs reinforcements. It needs young Americans to recognize this is no time to back down, but the crucial moment to step up. The clean energy movement needs you. It needs your brain. It needs your determination. Most of all, it needs your voice.
Americans under the age of 35 are more than twice as likely than our senior counterparts to support a carbon tax or phasing out coal power. We are more than three times as likely to install solar panels in the next five years. We understand the climate crisis and the promise of clean energy far better than our elders. Why? Because we must.
Each generation is presented with fights not of their making but with which their legacy to future generations will be defined. Climate change is our fight. And now we must define our legacy. Now is the moment we must demonstrate through our actions who we are and to whom the future still belongs.
Because while November 8th changed many things in this country, it did not change the undeniable fact that the future still belongs to the young. The future still belongs to those willing to build a sustainable world where economic growth does not have to come at the expense of our children and grandchildren. There has never been a greater need to fight for this cause and against the deniers who would steal from you, me and our future.
From clean energy companies and utilities, to think tanks and advocacy groups, to the Department of Energy, there has never been a greater need for passionate, talented young people to join the fight for clean energy and against climate change. There has never been a greater need for your talent and your energy, in whichever capacity you wish to apply it. The fight will require engineers, financiers and consultants. Installers and technicians. Journalists and analysts. Policy wonks and salespeople. Marketing gurus, communicators, researchers and more. It is estimated as many as 1 in every 33 jobs created in America since the Great Recession have been in solar, wind, LED lighting or other clean energy sectors. There is room for absolutely anyone and everyone – regardless of race, religion or creed.
Perhaps this was just the crisis the clean energy movement needed to get you going. Because, make no mistake, the movement needs you to get going. The movement needs you to get motivated, inspired, and maybe even a little angry. But more than anything, the clean energy movement needs you, and we need you now.