Climate change, clean power and sustainability figure prominently in the current U.S. presidential election campaign, but with striking contrasts. They have high visibility in the Democratic Party camp and are conspicuous by their near absence in the Republican Party speeches. Yet, climate change and the responses to its ill effects could bring about “an educational moment” for the general public and stay around in policy debates well beyond the election, according to Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics Eric Orts.
Moving away from Barack Obama’s policies on climate change would come with stiff costs, said Orts, who is also faculty director of the school’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL).
The business opportunities in combating climate change will also be hard to ignore, while those that prop up the coal industry will be counterproductive, said Gary Survis, venture partner for New York City-based Insight Venture Partners and also senior fellow at IGEL.
Orts and Survis discussed the outlook for climate-change issues against the backdrop of the U.S. presidential election campaign on the Knowledge at Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)
“Will this [campaign] be an educational moment for the general public [on climate change] where the facts are seen and this is a turning point?”–Eric Orts
Here are five key takeaways from their conversation. Jump to the corresponding spot in the podcast using the time codes provided:
1. Different strokes on climate change: Survis said he was disappointed that clean power and sustainability were not discussed during the Republican convention, “except in areas of energy where they are looking to pull back from the progress that we’ve made over the last few years.” (01:45). By contrast, he said the Democratic Party views climate change much differently. Also, he noted that the differing stands on climate change extend beyond Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to their vice presidential nominees — Virginia senator and former governor of that state Tim Kaine and Indiana governor Mike Pence, respectively. He said there is “a huge difference in what these two governors have done” on those issues (02:30).
2. The costs of a policy shift: In fact, the Trump campaign has described climate change as “a hoax,” Orts noted (04:30). Trump wants “to cancel the Paris agreement, bring back coal, get the regulations off of fossil fuel,” he added (04:45). He pointed out that such a policy shift would have economic effects. “It’s not cheap; there are tradeoffs,” he said (05:10). Survis noted that Trump’s plan for coal mines could release more supplies and weaken prices in a market that is already depressed. The coal industry banked on demand from China that didn’t materialize. Coal demand has peaked in China and it is “moving rapidly to an economy powered by alternative fuels,” he said (07:30).
3. Wait until light: Orts said the climate change and energy issues “are set up this year to be a defining question,” of the election and he expected them to be prominent even after the contest is decided (03:10). He predicted that Clinton and the Democrats would continue – and even expand — Barack Obama’s policies on climate change if that party is the victor. Although environmental activists were upset with Obama for making health care the first priority, “he has certainly closed out his eight years with significant policy issues” such as coal regulations that have shut down much of that polluting industry and the Paris accord on climate change where Obama played a key role, Orts added. (03:30).
“For business to want to go back and not look forward to this new opportunity [arising from responses to climate change] seems nonsensical.”–Gary Survis
4. Which side will prevail? Orts said one of his concerns is “Donald Trump has been very effective in denying major truths” (09:45). “Will this [campaign] be an educational moment for the general public [on climate change] where the facts are seen and this is a turning point?” where people believe in climate change “at a mass [level]” and agree that something needs to be done about it, or would the other side that is in denial prevail, he asked. “Who’s going to win?” he wondered (11:20).
5. The business opportunity: Orts pointed to business responses to climate change, including the rise of Tesla with its electric cars and storage batteries, and Clinton’s push for solar power and the boom in natural gas (10:30). Survis highlighted the growth of green economy jobs (13:45) as “real jobs” that don’t depend on government subsidies. The response to climate change represents “a huge opportunity for business,” he said. “For business to want to go back and not look forward to this new opportunity seems nonsensical,” he added (15:10).