“Government policy drives entrepreneurial investment.” Deb Markowitz, Vermont’s Secretary of Natural Resources, spoke with vigor today on the importance of state legislatures taking strong action against climate change in the next four years.
This evening’s panel, “U.S. Action at All Levels”, brought three leaders in differing sectors together to speak on the future of climate action in America. Moderated by Jennifer Layke, Global Energy Director of the World Resources Institute, the room was filled to the brim with people from across the globe, all anxious to hear how America’s current environmental leaders planned to proceed under a Trump presidency.
Alongside Markowitz sat Diane Holdorf, Chief Sustainability Officer of Kellogg, and Brian Deese, Senior Advisor to Barack Obama. Together, the three speakers spanned federal, state, and corporate interests.
Layke began by addressing the tiny-handed elephant in the room, acknowledging that there was much “uncertainty” following the Presidential election. She kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists how they thought a Trump presidency would impact the progress made in each of their respective institutions on climate adaptation and mitigation.
Deese spoke about the Clean Power Plan, which many fear will be thrown out by President elect Trump, pointing out that it hasn’t actually entered into force yet and is intended as a long-term driver for transition to renewable energy. Progress being made now (and it is significant!) is mainly due to market changes.
Sounding very cool for a man whose last eight years of work was so immediately threatened by Trump, Deese confidently explained that there is an economic transition to clean energy underway. “I know well… how slowly you can move sometimes when you’re trying to achieve your plans,” he said.
According to Deese, the shift from coal to natural gas, and natural gas to renewables in the long term, is a market-driven movement. Regulations have little to do with the loss of financial support for coal.
One audience member asked how these shifts could be continued when traditionally conservative states, such as Texas, had such a large role to play in the successful transition to clean energy.
Deese was quick to address these concerns. “It’s funny you should mention Texas,” he said. “Texas is a state that produces more wind power than any other state in the country.”
Secretary Markowitz of Vermont spoke to the role states are already taking in spearheading climate change mitigation. “Every time we’re investing money, we’re doing it for multiple benefits,” Markowitz said. She acknowledged that while the coasts were the first to jump on the green-policy bandwagon, she was hopeful that Middle America would see the effects of environmental policy. Markowitz lists these as two fold: 1) reducing emissions and 2) stimulating economic development.
And though some states are not openly in favor of climate change action, Markowitz expressed that state governments and resource secretaries “quietly moved forward” with regulations and plans to reduce emissions following the Paris Agreement.
“There are a number of my colleagues that will not use the words climate change,” said Markowitz. “That doesn’t mean they won’t protect their constituents from air pollution.”
The major takeaways from this panel?
So how can we keep action on climate change adaptation alive, even if we have four years of Trump ahead of us? Deese offers a solution--show people exactly how climate change affects them or someone they love. Says Deese: “It’s an issue that’s most impactful when it’s brought down to the local level.”