The new space race: How the U.S. can lead the charge against climate change in the Trump era

01/19/2017 04:40 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2017

Convince Trump and your Republican friends into cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with this one weird trick

As we anticipate the dawning of the Trump era, you may have missed an unusual milestone from our outgoing Commander-in-Chief. Barack Obama just became the first U.S. President to publish a research article in a scientific journal.

“The United States is showing that GHG mitigation need not conflict with economic growth,” Obama writes in Science. “Rather, it can boost efficiency, productivity, and innovation.” Fresh data from the White House Council of Economic Advisors indicates that total energy consumption in the U.S. actually decreased as the economy grew 10% from 2008 to 2015. Carbon emissions fell 9.5% during this same period. At last, the economic case for a clean energy economy is just as strong as the scientific and moral imperative that we act to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impacts of global climate change.

We can safely assume that President-elect Donald Trump, who calls climate change a "hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese, will not be authoring any scientific articles during his presidency. The real threats to continued progress are the Republicans taking the reins of power alongside Trump, who have built their careers on an alarming hostility to science. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), refuses to accept scientific consensus on climate change and boasts a track record of environmentally exploitive policy positions. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee for Energy Secretary, stated that calling carbon dioxide a pollutant is a “disservice” to the country and is adamantly opposed to emissions regulation.

If our children are to have a future on this planet, we must continue making rapid progress toward GHG emissions reductions – our best chance to limit global warming. Since Republicans refuse to accept scientific consensus and recommendations, there is only one course of action. We need to con the con-artist. Let’s trick Trump and the Republicans into cutting GHG emissions.

Unexpected upsides of emissions reductions

Democrats would do well to reframe the fight against climate change in Trump’s signature style. First, climate change is a business opportunity for both individual firms and the U.S. economy as a whole.

As Obama writes in Science, “businesses are coming to the conclusion that reducing emissions is not just good for the environment—it can also boost bottom lines, cut costs for consumers, and deliver returns for shareholders.” We see this trend in business’ increasing demand for energy efficient buildings, services, and supply chains.

For example, hotels are using smart, AI-enabled sensors to monitor energy usage, track and predict inefficiencies. In addition to identifying energy waste, this technology can help hotels find trouble spots before they impact customers, such as finding faulty HVAC systems or predicting and preventing electrical fires. In larger built environments like a medical device factory, energy intelligence increases operational efficiency and enables higher production levels. Businesses of all stripes take the money they save by cutting energy waste and re-invest it by hiring new workers and increasing overall productivity. Today, 2.2 million Americans are employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services.

Republicans, take note. Investing in energy efficiency creates higher profits and more jobs. It just happens to have the added benefit of cutting GHG emissions.

The art of the deal

The consistent theme of Trump’s career is a zero-sum negotiation ideology. Similarly, the partisanship practiced by Congressional Republicans eschews the traditional win-win structure of transparent negotiation in favor of gridlock and extreme cost to opponents. Trump and the Republicans won the election in part by convincing enough Americans that other countries are taking advantage of us through rigged deals, and that ‘we never win anymore’ on the world stage. Our new government’s perspective puts the landmark Paris climate agreement squarely in its crosshairs.

Let’s reframe the case for international climate policy as a Trump ideal.

Countries including China, India, and Mexico produce two-thirds of global GHG emissions. The Paris climate agreement marks the first time that all countries have agreed to aggressively reduce emissions and to be held accountable for those commitments. If the U.S. were to turn its back on the Paris agreement, we would give up our power to stop other countries from cheating on their emissions reduction targets. This would undermine our economic interests in the form of both short-term growth losses and long-term climate damages, which are costly to contain.

Furthermore, the Paris climate agreement helps America beat our foreign enemies in ‘the new space race’ -- the race to create and command the new GHG-free energy economy. By doubling down on made-in-America innovations in energy efficient technologies, our economy will grow the fastest, host the best jobs, and show the world that the U.S. can ‘win again.’ No wonder “hundreds of major companies—including energy-related companies from ExxonMobil and Shell, to DuPont and Rio Tinto... have supported the Paris process,” notes Obama.

Make America Great Again (by cutting GHG emissions)

If countries uphold their Paris commitments to reduce emissions, we can increase our probability of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius by as much as 50 percent. This is truly our last chance to halt the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change. We must persuade the new Trump administration – by any logic necessary – to continue cutting GHG emissions by moving to an energy-efficient economy.

While this may not be the type of energy dominance Trump had in mind, America can ‘win again’ by leading the world in developing and deploying critical energy-efficiency technologies. Our new president can certainly agree that “it is good business and good economics to lead a technological revolution and define market trends.” Just don’t tell Trump that Obama said it first.

Mark Chung is the CEO and Co-Founder of Verdigris Technologies, a NASA-based start-up innovating energy-intelligent buildings. Verdigris was just named one of the top AI start-ups in the world, and one of the top 10 companies in smart buildings.

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