High angle view of a male worker standing atop a wind turbine at dusk wearing protective work clothes and safety hardhat inspecting machinery
Billy Hustace—Getty Images
By Justin Worland
January 9, 2017

President Obama published his latest foray into academia as president this week with an article in the journal Science on what he calls the “irreversible momentum” of clean energy.

The article joins a list of works by the president published in the pages of academic journals in recent months including an article on the president’s role in criminal justice reform in the Harvard Law Review and pieces on the Affordable Care Act in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The new article highlights reasons Obama—and many economists—expect renewable energy to continue to expand even if future politicians and policymakers withdraw key regulations issued by the current administration. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to eliminate many Obama-era environmental regulations and has nominated several people who deny the science of climate change to top posts.

In the article, Obama argues that the market will not move off the course of reducing carbon emissions just because Trump is president, pointing to the increasingly competitive (and declining) cost of renewable energy and private sector leaders who realize that going green can boost their bottom line. The cost of wind and utility-scale photovoltaic solar electricity fell 41% and 64% respectively between 2008 and 2015, Obama says citing Department of Energy data.

“Each president is able to chart his or her own policy course,” writes Obama in the article. But “the latest science and economics provide a helpful guide for what the future may bring, in many cases independent of the near-term policy choices.”

Trump will also face pressure on the international stage to address the issue in some form, Obama argues. Such demands might keep Trump from keeping his promise to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has support from nearly 200 countries.

Obama gets the byline to himself, but the acknowledgements section recognizes that senior advisor Brian Deese and science advisor John Holdren both contributed to the research, drafting and editing of the piece. The journal describes the four-page article as a “policy forum,” a format more akin to an opinion essay than a typical research article like most of the other work published in the journal.

Obama has cultivated an image as a science advocate during his presidency doing everything from starting the annual White House science fair to creating a plan to address the critically important but little-discussed issue of antibiotic resistance. Perhaps most prominently, he introduced a number of measures to address man-made climate change.

“The United States has always been a place that loves science,” Obama said at a 2015 White House Science Fair. “We’ve always been obsessed with tinkering and discovering and inventing and pushing the very boundaries of what’s possible. That’s who we are.”


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