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Zero-Sum Climate and Energy Politics Under the Trump Administration

September 2019

Citation: ELR 10870

Author: Melissa Powers

The concept of “zero-sum” derives from economics and game theory, but its political meaning is less technical and objective. In political parlance, zero-sum has come to stand for the idea that there will be winners and losers in every transaction. The Trump Administration has continually espoused zero-sum ideas about energy and the climate, although its zero-sum framing focuses more generally on pitting fossil fuels (winners) against clean energy (losers). This Article, adapted from Chapter 10 of Beyond Zero-Sum Environmentalism (ELI Press 2019), explores whether the Administration’s zerosum politics will pose long-term damage to the United States by undermining competitive energy markets, locking in fossil fuel infrastructure, and further polarizing climate and energy politics in the United States. The Article concludes with potential strategies that states, local governments, and private actors can pursue to ensure that decarbonization will provide the greatest good for the greatest numbers, while ensuring that fossil fuels lose in the end.

Melissa Powers is a Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar and Professor of Law at Lewis & Clark Law School, where she is also the founder and director of the Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School.

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