The Answer is Clean Energy Jobs. (No, really)

29 January 2010

By Amy Davidsen,
US Executive Director, The Climate Group
Op-ed, Huffington Post

In his first State of the Union, Obama provided his answer for the economy's woes: clean energy jobs.

"We can put Americans to work today building the infrastructure of tomorrow," Obama said -- "building clean energy facilities" and "manufacturing clean energy products." To achieve this, he called on our government to pass a "comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America."

But the idea of investing in a clean energy infrastructure -- energy that will increase our energy security, boost the economy and help avoid dangerous climate change, has somehow become controversial in our country. A monumentally important issue lost amidst bickering over hacked emails and modest short term costs.
And while the notion of rebuilding traditional infrastructure is accepted on both sides of the aisle as a tried and true method of putting people to work during a recession, the notion of building a cleaner, more efficient energy infrastructure is scandalous. Tell us we can create jobs building a new road, and we applaud. Tell us we can create jobs building clean energy, and we scoff.

How did we get here? Why do we doubt our ability to build a clean energy infrastructure and clean energy jobs?

Take the issue of climate change and clean energy out of its confused political context, and the economic benefits are surprisingly simple. It's about energy efficiency savings and jobs.

A recent study by McKinsey found that the US could save $1.2 trillion by 2020, by investing $520 billion in energy efficiency improvements, like 'sealing leaky ducts and replacing inefficient household appliances.' And a recent study by the Universities of Berkeley, Illinois and Yale estimates that with comprehensive climate and energy policies in place, the US would gain at least 900,000 jobs sealing those ducts and manufacturing those appliances.

These jobs would not only be on the coasts -- they'd be in our manufacturing base in the Midwest as well. A new report by The Climate Group and The University of Michigan (using economic research from Deloitte) estimates that comprehensive climate and energy policies could create over 100,000 jobs in the Midwest by 2015 from the manufacture of wind turbine components, hybrid powertrains and advanced batteries alone. That's three of the fifteen low-carbon technologies that the Midwest has a competitive advantage in.

But the fact is that it doesn't matter what we think. The reality of a changing global energy infrastructure will exist, whether we believe in it or not. And if we, for the first time in our nation's history, decide to take a pass on greater efficiency, innovation and energy security, others will happily take the torch from us. The effort to build the infrastructure of tomorrow is already well underway in China, which already supplies 40% of the world's solar PV technology and is set to become the world's leading manufacturer of wind turbines.

Our lingering doubts have left the fate of US climate and energy policy in jeopardy. We need to recapture our faith in our own ability to innovate and grow before the opportunity is lost.

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