The Green Energy, Climate-Friendly Trend Is Not Going Anywhere

It's better for the economy, our health, and the planet.

It seems likely that America will continue its trend towards a more climate-friendly economy, regardless of the whims of Capitol Hill. Although the science of climate change may be under debate by policy-makers (if not by scientists), one of President Obama's final chess moves in office, a $500 million check to the Green Climate Fund, is representative of the building momentum for greener policies and greener investments.

The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA both just came to the same conclusion through separate studies: 2016 was the hottest year on record. Not only that, but 2015 and 2014 had both broken previously held highs, meaning the last three years consecutively were defined by record-breaking heat. 

In China, a country that has lagged in efforts to reduce coal and pollution, things have imploded: the nation had to issue a red alert for smog this month that confined millions to the indoors and forced the cancellation of flights. The alert further illuminated the dangers of air pollution and the negative ways it can hold us — our bodies and our businesses — back.

But acknowledging climate change is just one step.

Another major breakthrough is the newfound cost effectiveness of using renewable energy. Solar and wind energy are now cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in 30 countries, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Even though global investment is still lagging behind goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement, this cost effectiveness could help move the needle.

"Renewable energy has reached a tipping point," Michael Drexler, the head of infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, said in a statement. "It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns."

Solar energy alone is predicted to cost half the price of electricity from natural gas or coal within two decades, a reality that could lead to all kinds of new investment in cheaper, cleaner energy. 

As for the signature climate agreement of Obama's term, signed by more than 160 nations, you can expect it to stay firmly intact, too. The incoming secretary of state is in favor of keeping our place at the table in the Paris Climate Agreement, and 360 of the largest companies and investors in the United States have urged our government to preserve the landmark deal. 

"Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness," the letter states. "Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all."

Then, of course, there is the issue of how the public feels about climate change.

Globally, almost every leader in every developed nation recognizes the necessity of addressing climate change. In a 2016 Pew survey of the populations of 40 nations, the organization found that a majority of each viewed climate change as a serious problem. 

Those numbers indicate a growing awareness that isn't likely to go away soon. The millennial generation, which is now the largest voting block in the United States, is significantly more concerned about global warming than the generation that came before them. Those concerns are perhaps best demonstrated by the 21 youth plaintiffs who are currently suing the U.S. federal government, Barack Obama, and several federal agencies for not doing more to stop the fossil fuel industry from polluting the environment. 

As that generation grows and becomes more politically active, the public pressure to address climate change here in the U.S. is likely to hit a fever pitch. But even for the people unconvinced by the scientific data, the cost-effectiveness and job potential in growing the renewable energy sector brings a whole new argument to the table.

Cover photo: Rena Schild / Shutterstock, Inc.

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