Investing in the low carbon economy is a good investment that will supply jobs, cut costs and reduce pollution all
while combating climate change. Covid-19 has helped to increase support for a green stimulus. This pandemic has augured an economic crisis and exposed the fault lines in our economy and our social structures. Investing in a more sustainable economy addresses a wide range of issues including the increasingly imminent threat of climate change. We have seen the return of 7.9 million jobs since June but many of the 11.5 million jobs lost since February may be gone for good. According to recent Labor Department data cited by CNN, the US economy is down 4.7 million jobs since 2017. A green infrastructure focused recovery could create millions of jobs and dollar for dollar this type of stimulus spending has proven to be the best way to create jobs.
Investing in the low carbon economy will capitalize on a large and growing low carbon economy. This includes investments in renewables, power storage, the energy grid, building retrofits, electric vehicles, charging networks, job training, research and development. The number of green jobs has been steadily outpacing the traditional economy and this is a trend that is expected to accelerate. According to an analysis from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the clean energy sector has seen a 10.4 percent increase in jobs since 2010. It currently employs 3.3 million Americans and is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country.
Last year the energy efficiency sector employed 2.4 million people. According to a WRI fact sheet building retrofits could add millions more jobs. WRI also states that modernizing the electric grid could create 150,000 to 200,000 jobs each year and investing $12-16 billion in the grid annually could lead to $30-40 billion in economic activity each year. Investing in the transportation industry including electric vehicles could provide hundreds of thousands of jobs. According to the WRI for every $1 billion invested in public transportation 50,000 jobs could be created. Investing in tree restoration could create more than 150,000 jobs each year.
Clean energy investments offers many benefits. It is by far the largest investment opportunity and the most important way of reducing climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions. Transitioning to renewables is a win-win that offers a cheaper, more reliable and more resilient form of energy. Even before the global outbreak of the coronavirus, renewables were on track to replace fossil fuels. While the entire energy industry has been hit hard by the virus there is good reason to believe that renewables are in a far better position than fossil fuels.
A study by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitzand and Dimitri Zenghelis titled, “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” reviewed more than 700 economic stimulus packages and surveyed 231 experts from 53 countries. This research indicates that stimulus spending on new green energy creates more than twice as many jobs per dollar than investments in fossil fuels. Their modeling suggests that 7.49 jobs are created for every $1 million invested in green energy projects. The same money invested in the dirty energy industry would create only 2.65 jobs. A 2009 report from the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute shows that on average investments in clean energy created 2.8 times the number of jobs as the same money spent on the oil and gas industry.
Investments in renewable energy not only create jobs they reduce operating costs. We have already seen massive declines in the price of solar (85% in the last decade), wind (49% in the last decade) and battery storage. In most of the world wind and solar are now the least expensive forms of energy and the cost of clean energy will continue to decline as it is scaled.
Green infrastructure investment help vulnerable lower income communities by reducing costs and making them more energy secure. Clean energy investments would go a long way towards addressing environmental racism. Communities of color are more likely to situated near sources pollution from fossil fuel infrastructure. Replacing things like coal power plants and oil refineries with clean energy infrastructure would reduce the incidence of pollution related death and disease in these communities. This would also decrease the disease and deaths associated with the cornavirus which has been exacerbated by the federal government’s systemic racism and elimination of environmental protections. Strategically investing in the green economy could also help to address the disparity the currently exists in the distribution of clean energy jobs.
However, to realize the job creation potential of the low carbon economy Congress must do far more than extend and expand federalclean energy investment tax credits. We need to see legislation like the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which leveraged investments in clean energy and helped to power the economic recovery. The $90 billion that was invested in clean energy helped to create almost a million jobs and spawned hundreds of new companies. However, with the president and Republicans continuing their support dirty energy there is no reason to believe we will see such legislation until there is a change in leadership.
Investing in the green economy will create jobs, slash costs and reduce pollution while making the energy grid, buildings and communities more resilient. Failing to act is certain to push us past tipping points from which we may not be able to recover while prioritizing low-carbon infrastructure projects could pull us back from the brink of a climate catastrophe.
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