There’s a lot of great news these days about innovations and projects that are moving our society forward toward a sustainable future. There’s also a lot of bad news out there about the damage we are doing. Sustainability shouldn’t be political, but let’s face it, it is. While one (I, for instance) might argue that we all should want a world free of biologically hazardous chemicals and human-produced climate-altering gases, one (I) can also understand that, to get there, some people’s economic interests will be, shall we say, not optimized. Change is never easy.
However, there are three great reasons why even Trump’s supporters should love and embrace sustainability.
Zach wrote a great piece in February about why cleantech is the answer to so many economic challenges for rural America. The long and short of it is that family farms formed the backbone of rural America for hundreds of years, but have given way to economic forces of industrialization and automation. To replace this industry, there are few more empowering forces than cleantech. Wind power jobs in the midwest are booming and can and should continue to do so. Solar and energy efficiency jobs are ripe industries for continued growth. Throw in organic farming, which can help smaller, family farms survive with niche products that draw a price premium, and these so-called “green” jobs produce something that, at least historically, the Republican Party valued: independence and self-reliance. Breaking free from foreign fossil fuels improves an area’s economic resiliency (and foreign can mean from a different country or state or county even, when it comes down to it — anything that’s not locally produced moves money out of the area). In addition, these jobs require training that is as blue collar as it gets … hands-on dirty work in many cases, jobs you can be proud of, sleeve-rolling-up, I’m-sore-at-the-end-of-the-day type of jobs. Trust me, I work in one: my company does residential energy efficiency. And I love it. My job is one that could be as economically and soulfully fulfilling in rural Iowa as it would be in Manhattan.
The bottom line is that these jobs can NEVER be outsourced to another country. Manufacturing, by its nature, can be done in many places. Working in peoples’ homes, as I do, needs to happen in those peoples’ homes. Solar, wind, energy efficiency, EV maintenance … these are cleantech jobs, these are the future of America, and the world’s economy. And they’re all local.
Is this a reach? Not in the slightest. Unsustainable natural resource management was responsible for Haiti’s poverty, driving waves of people out of their homes in search of a better place. Climate change was a big driver behind Syria’s civil war and the resulting refugee crisis. Syria’s drought killed crops and livestock and drove 1.5 million farmers off their land. Desperate people with no resources scared of violent warlords trying to secure the last of those dwindling resources (e.g., water in the drought-stricken Middle East, for instance) have few options except to leave their homes. I’m sure that most people would prefer to stay put. Once you leave home, every day is full of danger and uncertainty.
The Pentagon cited climate change as a great destabilizing force: droughts, floods, coastal inundation, and superstorms will make hundreds of millions of people need to leave their homes against their will. There’s no real land left — no unexplored continents. So, where do these people go? Sure, we can build walls (with our tax dollars, not Mexico’s, as it turns out). But immigrant crises do not stop at borders: they destabilize economies and send economic shocks across borders, as well as putting strain on natural and other resources that know no political borders (rivers, air, agricultural resources).
Third, It Can Save Coal
Is this a bigger reach? Hear me out. I taught sustainable business in the MBA program at the University of Hawaii for several years as a part-time adjunct professor, and one of the fundamental tenets I taught students was to look at waste streams not as waste, but rather to look at them as opportunities to make more money. As one of the texts for the class, I used The Business Guide to Sustainability, a book that gave case study after case study after case study of companies that turned their waste into a profitable product. If you can close the manufacturing loop — rather than Take-Make-Waste, think of it as Take-Make-Reclaim-Remake — then you reduce input costs and costs associated with disposal. Blue jean manufacturers took shreds of jeans from factory floors and turned them into insulation. KonaRed turned waste products (leftover coffee bean hulls that were otherwise a cost for farmers to dispose of) into a multi-million dollar business virtually overnight. Imperfect Produce takes produce that otherwise doesn’t make the cut for a grocery store (too big, too small, slightly off color, etc.), and that would otherwise be sent to the landfill, and sells the produce directly to consumers who care more about price and nutrition than about “perfect-looking” fruits and vegetables.
Entire ecosystems of closed-loop businesses are already fully functional and turning waste into new products (and creating new jobs in the process). They’re called eco-industrial parks. The idea is that one company that has waste products partners up with a company that can use those waste products to build their products … and so on. It’s not a Star Trek fantasy future, it’s closed-loop thinking, it’s happening today, and it’s Sustainability 101.
Speaking of Star Trek, the Roddenberry Foundation, named for Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, awards innovative companies that can help us create a sustainable future in which there is no waste. This year, it chose, from among 600+ applicants, Opus12. Opus12 has a technology that can sequester carbon emissions at the source (e.g., a coal plant), and turn them into viable commercial products, including liquid fuels, that that coal plant can then sell. Rather than spending money on fighting a political battle to keep carbon emissions free, fossil fuel–intensive companies should be investing in these technologies for their own long-term financial viability. It can help close the loop on carbon, turning what is a costly waste product, and a highly politicized one at that, into a viable product.
Opus12 is still in its nascent stages, and commercialization on a scale to create large-scale change won’t happen overnight. But coal and other fossil fuel–intensive industries don’t need to wait for technologies like Opus12’s to come to full-scale commercialization — there are closed-loop coal-based ecosystems already in existence today that provide economic, environmental, and social benefits.
Why Are These Dots Not Connected?
All it takes is progressive thinking about finding win-win solutions. So, why don’t we see more love for sustainability from those on the right? Funny that one of the main arguments we hear again and again is that big government is the agenda of the left, but the fight against sustainable thinking is so feverish from the current Republican Party that deep red states have even legislated against it.
The Trump team has made no bones about the winners it is choosing and the losers it wants to pretend don’t exist. Despite losing by 3 million votes, the administration has tried to put fast-food magnates in charge of labor, climate change–denying fossil-fuel magnates to head up the DOE and the EPA. It’s full-on burying its head in the sand and ignoring scientific fact in favor of alternative facts based on opinions and hearsay.
Trump is gambling with house money — our money — that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese (yes, he said exactly that). If he’s right, great, no harm done, pipelines will be built, emissions unabated, and coal can stay in the mix (it won’t, however … it’s simply too expensive compared to solar and wind, not to mention natural gas). But he’s gambling with our money against incredible odds. Conservatives like to point out that “not all scientists agree” that we are causing climate change. OK, sure … there are some, maybe 1–2% of scientists who argue against the overwhelming evidence, for one reason or another. But would you gamble with our future if the odds of you being right were roughly equal to 1–2%?
The flip side of the coin is that, if he’s wrong, and his gamble against 99–1 odds blows up in our face, we’re in a world of hurt. So why not err on the side of caution, invest in carbon sequestration, keep America on the cutting edge of technology globally, and create mounds of green jobs in the process?
I’d love to hear from any conservatives reading this about your thoughts on the matter. Trolls will likely get blocked, but legitimate comments will be listened to, appreciated, and potentially answered.