The Renewable Energy Crisis: advancing renewable energy has become a critical issue for the U.S.


A pioneer. This is what the United States has long considered itself–a model of innovation for the world. Indeed, on some level, this is true; for the past century, the U.S. has held a secure position as one of the most dominant nations in the world. However, as new technology and research become available, the United States under the Trump administration is distancing itself from one of the most pressing issues of the twenty-first century: renewable energy. Since taking office, the Trump administration has introduced numerous new policies which promote fossil fuel industries and ignore the promise of renewable energy. The administration has also decreased environmental regulations and limited the extent to which clean energy businesses are able to operate within the U.S. Even more troubling, the President has expressed an immediate desire to slash the budget for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by an alarming 71.9 percent.  Conversely, other countries have bulked up their own renewable sectors while minimizing their investments in fossil fuels. In the last century, the U.S. has championed progressive ideals such as environmentalism and national parks. In order to continue being such a leader, the Trump administration needs to renew American investment in renewable energy with vigor and urgency.

In recent years, there has been significant growth in domestic renewable energy; in 2016 there was a 1.7 percent decrease in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and over 13 percent of all the energy produced in 2015 was renewable. Despite this progress, the country cannot be allowed to grow lax. The United States experienced such growth in part because renewable energy was a priority for the Obama administration. Obama implemented a variety of policies designed to promote clean energy, and had expressed hopes that by 2035, 80 percent of American energy would be renewable. Under Obama, from 2010 to 2015, over $80 billion was invested into various clean energy ventures both domestically and abroad; there is nothing proactive in Trump’s proposed budget regarding such issues, and Trump’s proposals will actually hurt the renewable energy business. Renewable energy has become a background concern and is frequently sacrificed in favor of Trump’s other promises. Under Trump’s policies, by 2035, the U.S. would emit an additional 400 million metric tons of carbon. Furthermore, one of Trump’s critical goals is to increase the fossil fuel industry, thereby lowering domestic prices for oil and coal, ”driving down demand for renewable energy and damaging the entire industry. What the U.S. needs instead is forward-looking policies that promote innovative technology for renewable energy.

The current path of the United States is in stark opposition to the rest of the world. Almost every major industrial country in the world is bulking up their renewable energy sectors. Yet in the United States, the Trump administration is seemingly doing all it can to set America back by incentivizing coal and other fossil fuel sources of energy. China, the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is producing far less carbon than even conservative models predicted. Furthermore, the Chinese government, with public investments in renewable energy and subsidies to private companies that produce solar panels and wind turbines, has come close to monopolizing the global market. India is also poised to be a dominant player in non-carbon based energy within the next five years, in part by doubling wind power and having nearly fifteen times as much solar power than it had in 2016. Likewise, Europe, according to the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), is on a path to almost completely eliminate fossil fuels and other unsustainable methods of energy production by 2050.

The progress towards greater use of renewable energy will continue globally, regardless of America’s hesitation. As other countries grow their renewable energy sectors, the demand for non-renewable energy–particularly in the fossil fuel industry–will decrease. It is therefore crucial that the U.S. seek profits in new areas, and renewable energy is likely one of the largest industries of the future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted that by 2021, there will be up to a 42 percent increase in the renewable energy sector. A report published in 2015 by the New York University’s School of Law Institute for Policy Integrity estimated that the U.S. could save approximately $2 trillion dollars by 2030 by moving towards more renewable energy, and over $10 trillion by 2050–not including the $200 million that the U.S. had already gained through leading climate legislation in the years prior to 2015. If significant steps towards renewable are taken in the near future, the U.S. GDP would grow an additional 1.1 percent per year solely from clean energy. The United States therefore cannot let others such as China and Germany cement themselves as the leaders of this multi-trillion dollar industry, especially when the U.S. has  the resources to do so.

Trump’s main justification for his actions on renewable energy is the purported benefit that more coal and oil related jobs will have on the American economy. Many Americans still need jobs; this is undisputable. To try to create these jobs through slashing of environmental regulations, and promoting dirty industries, however, is not the way to progress. Trump is doing nothing but clinging to a declining fossil fuel industry. Furthermore, he is fundamentally misinformed about several of the effects of his policies. There is no shortage in production of natural gas and other fossil fuels; the U.S. has more than enough oil and gas for the foreseeable future. Instead, by increasing production, prices would fall as supplies increase. And, as foreign buyers of American oil draw back on their own oil consumption, there is a diminishing market for oil, and excess production is therefore only an unnecessary drain on already scarce natural resources.

Trump should instead follow the example of the rest of the world and move federal investment into solar, wind, and other forms of renewable energy so that more Americans can have sustainable jobs in a burgeoning industry. Better yet, the United States should take a leadership role in developing and marketing this technology, and indeed the country does have the potential to become such. Already, in the electric sector there are more than twice the number of workers in the solar industry than in the standard coal, oil, and gas industries combined; as of 2015, the solar industry contributes approximately 1.3 percent of new jobs in America. While there are still many more people employed by non-renewable energy industries, this will likely not be true in the future. In 2015, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that despite the non-renewable energy job sector decreasing, there was a 5 percent increase in jobs in renewable energy with an additional 1.3 million people employed in hydropower. This is in part because non-renewable energy such as fracking requires relatively little manpower. Renewable energy, conversely, requires more people be employed and that those workers be trained at a higher skill level and work for longer periods of time. Therefore, renewable energy is a far more productive investment for Trump than creating only a handful of the short-term, low paying jobs that accompany the production of traditional forms of energy.

It is undeniable that fossil fuels and other environmentally harmful forms of energy are cheap and easy to produce. Yet given the widespread and lasting consequences that accompany such energy forms, they are no longer the best option. The American public has the opportunity to pursue environmentally-friendly, economically prudent forms of energy. Wind, solar, hydroelectricity–these are the energies of the future. In twenty years, it will not matter how many jobs, if any, the Trump administration managed to create by promoting fracking or rolling back Obama administration environmental regulations. All that will be left if the U.S. continues to backtrack will be a tarnished environment and a failing economy.