President Donald Trump has pledged his support to revitalize the coal mining industry and create more jobs through deregulation.
Billionaire serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, argues that the U.S. government should take a different approach.
“Coal mining is not the nicest of jobs, and coal mining disappeared in Britain many decades ago, and pretty much every single one of those coal miners went into jobs which were far more pleasant, far less dangerous, far better for their health, and I doubt that there’s one coal miner that looks back thinking, ‘God, I wish I was down in a coal mine,’” Branson said in response to a question from Yahoo Finance.
Instead, Branson believes that creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean forms of energy such as wind and solar would be “good for the coal miners, good for America, and it would be good for the world.”
During an earlier panel discussion at the DS Virgin Racing Innovation Summit on Friday to promote the inaugural Formula E ePrix held in Brooklyn this weekend, Branson argued that the Trump administration’s approach to energy is the wrong one.
“Obviously, what’s happened in America, having an administration that put out the most bizarre statement on [the Paris climate agreement] is not good news because you do need governments to set the rules,” Branson said. ”And, you do need to make it clear that clean energy should have a leg up over dirty energy. And you have a government that’s not setting proper differentials, that’s going to be tricky.”
As a result, American cities and companies will have to come forward and step into the breach where the government is lacking, he added.
Fellow panelist Andrew Liveris, the CEO of Dow Chemical (DOW) and head of Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, does believe that the U.S. will find its way back to the Paris climate agreement.
“I’m not saying that out of deep knowledge,” he said.
During the panel discussion, Liveris noted that people had been left behind from a “massive policy failure” in governments in three key areas.
“Globalization, digitalization, and protecting the planet, sustainability, are three massive causes where we’ve left people behind. We’ve left them behind.”
Part of the problem is that equity market investors focus on short-term results instead of supporting companies addressing these issues.
“We’re in a 90-day march to make profits in the public markets,” Liveris said. “If I talk about something that has a solution two or three years from now, no investor will be interested. The investment community in this area is minor without a voice. The investment community in the area of not investing for the future is loud, and they’re demanding profits. And we’re doing it to ourselves.”
Liveris added that those workers who’ve been left behind, like a coal miner in West Virginia, need a place in the new economy. They also need to be brought into the conversation.
“They’re not even being talked to, let alone being educated.”
Speaking of education, he added that only small pool of graduates have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
“We can’t find people to actually help us solve those problems,” Liveris said. “And when we shut out immigration, it’s even worse. So we are in deficit of the skills and training needed to help everybody solve this problem.”
Liveris believes that there needs to be a public-private partnership model that helps bring people along while addressing climate change.
For Branson, solving climate change is “one of the great opportunities for the world.”
He envisions a future where animals no longer have to be slaughtered for meat, which contributes significantly to pollution. He also sees a future where planes and cars are powered by batteries and homes run on clean fuels. These sorts of innovations would also be much more economical.
“If the whole world can be powered forever on roughly $25 per barrel for energy that suddenly means companies can make more money, people can make more money; hospitals can charge less. The knock-on effect to the global economy is enormous,” Branson said. “What companies need to realize, pushing to be carbon neutral by 2030, 2040, 2050 is sort of the final stop gap, should be good business sense for them, for the economy, for the people.”
Branson later told Yahoo Finance that his vision for a new kind of capitalism is one where investors put their money in companies that make a difference.
“I think it’s positive capitalism that invests in purpose-driven companies that can solve the problems of the world. So, as much as possible when you have three opportunities to invest in something, choose, and you haven’t got an infinite amount of money, spend that money on something that’s going to make a positive difference in the world. And actually, I expect you’ll get a better return as well.”
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.