Donald Trump rode to the White House promising to bring back jobs for working-class Americans. But dismantling federal efforts to address climate change will make it harder to deliver on that promise.
On March 28, President Trump issued an executive order to roll back a decade’s worth of climate policy. The order guts the Clean Power Plan, opens federal lands to mining and drilling, and removes climate considerations from policymaking. Trump says the executive order will save American jobs, in part by reviving the beleaguered coal industry. Flanked by coal miners as he signed the order, Trump declared, “You know what this says? You’re going back to work.”
But energy experts say weakening environmental laws won’t bring back coal miners’ jobs, which have been lost to mechanization and competition from abundant natural gas. Even coal industry executives agree: Richard Murray, the founder and CEO of coal giant Murray Energy, recently warned President Trump against promising new jobs in coal. “I suggested that he temper his expectations,” Murray recalled. “Those are my exact words. He can’t bring them back.”
By attempting to prop up a fading industry while ignoring the real issue of climate change, the Trump administration also ignores the job-creating potential of efforts to prevent—and prepare for—a changing climate.
The clean energy and sustainability sectors are robust engines of U.S. job growth. Those sectors now employ at least four million Americans, up from 3.4 million in 2011. They are good-paying jobs, from entry-level installers to engineers and architects. Already, there are more U.S. jobs in solar energy than in oil, gas and coal extraction combined. And jobs in solar and wind are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy.
While we gear up to prevent climate change, we must also acknowledge that a certain amount of climate disruption is now inevitable—a legacy of past greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, climate disaster already takes a huge toll on our nation’s economy—$46 billion in 2016 alone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There is much we must do to prepare our communities for rising seas, stronger storms, and sweltering heat waves.
One way to do so is with “green infrastructure”—rain gardens, street trees and bioswales that help absorb stormwater and keep cities cooler. A new report, “Exploring the Green Infrastructure Workforce,” shows great potential for job growth, especially for low-income, low-skilled workers. Already, hundreds of thousands of full-time workers are employed in this field. Median salaries in the field are more than twice the federal minimum wage, with opportunities for career growth and advancement.
President Trump wants to create jobs, particularly for Americans left behind by an increasingly globalized economy. That’s a laudable goal. But we won’t get there by ignoring climate change, or by looking nostalgically to the past. Instead, we must take a clear-eyed look at the challenges and opportunities of the future—because that’s where the jobs are.
Laurie Mazur is editor of the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, which is supported by The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation.