To prevent global climate change from reaching catastrophic levels, the world must achieve net-zero-carbon by mid-century. That should be the goal of the United States, too, as the world’s largest economy and as the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions today.
The Green New Deal introduced early in the 116th Congress frames one set of goals and ideas to achieve net-zero-carbon and to do it in socially just ways. The good news is that carbon-free energy resources already are making substantial strides in the economy and they have been for several years. In 2017, 10% of U.S. energy came from renewable resources; 17% of the nation’s electric power came from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind resources. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that 20% of the nation’s electric power will come from renewables in 2020. It predicts that non-hydro renewables will be the fastest-growing source of power generation in the U.S. at least through 2021.
Nevertheless, fossil fuels still dominate America’s energy mix. Coal and natural gas will provide 61% of the nation’s electricity in 2020, down only 2% from 2018, EIA says. Clearly, we need to make the economy-wide transition to clean energy much more rapidly.
The bad news is that President Trump’s energy actions are suppressing progress. The solar and wind energy sectors were creating more jobs than any other part of the economy in recent years. Now, the number of Americans employed in solar energy is dropping. It declined in 2017 and 2018, due in part to Trump’s trade policies. U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution increased 3.4% in 2018 after falling for three years. The increase in CO2 nearly set a new record for this century.
Meantime, rising seas and violent weather are the costly proof that global warming has consequences. Last year (2018) was the fourth-hottest year on record worldwide. Fourteen extreme weather disasters killed 247 Americans and caused more than $90 billion in damages.
In short, an aggressive national initiative is necessary in the United States to turn the trend lines back in the right direction – more jobs, fewer emissions, cleaner air, better public health and safety, and public policies at all levels of government to expedite progress toward the mid-century goal of net-zero-carbon. Actions by individual Americans are important, but not enough. Actions by state and local governments are important, but not enough. Actions by businesses are welcome, but not enough. The federal government must help expedite the transition to zero carbon.
There are many reports about the catastrophes that await us if we do not act against climate change, but there are far fewer on the enormous opportunities that climate action creates. These talking points have been prepared by PCAP to help policy makers, civil leaders and thought leaders in the United States communicate these benefits to the American people. The old myths that renewable energy is too expensive and the transition away from fossil fuels will kill the economy – those myths are simply not true. Here is why:
- Clean energy is one of the economy’s most dynamic opportunities for creating good jobs.
- The advanced energy sector in the U.S., which includes energy efficiency, demand response, natural gas, solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, energy storage, electric vehicles, biofuels and smart grids, generates $200 billion in annual revenues and employs more than 3 million Americans.
- Wind and solar industries in the U.S. employed more than 360,000 people in 2017. The wind energy sector employed 102,000 Americans; the solar energy sector employed more than 260,000. The solar workforce grew 25% in 206, while wind-energy jobs grew 32%.
- However, due in large part to tariffs the Trump Administration has put on solar components, there were 242,343 jobs in the solar-energy sector in 2018, 8,000 fewer than in 2017. It was the second year in a row that solar jobs declined after seven years of steady growth.
- Jobs in renewable energy have proven to be immune from the kind of disruptive swings we see in fossil energy supplies and prices. Employment in solar and wind, for example, continued growing rapidly in the United States even when low oil prices earlier in this decade resulted in the loss of nearly 100,000 jobs in the oil industry.
- A study published in the journal Energy Economics found that the growth of solar-related employment could absorb coal-industry layoffs and provide full-time careers for coal workers over the next 15 years. After retraining, the study concluded, salaries for technical workers in the solar industry would surpass the money they made working in coal.
- The unsubsidized levelized costs of building and operating new wind and solar electricity generating capacity are now at or below the marginal cost of conventional power generation in the U.S. At the end of 2018, Lazard, a closely watched monitor of energy prices, reported that the cost of solar photovoltaics (PV) had dropped 88% since 2009, while the price of wind power had dropped nearly 70%. During the same period, the cost of power from coal went up 9% and the cost of nuclear 23%.
- Advocates for conventional energy often argue that moving to low- and zero-carbon resources would ruin the economy. However, reducing energy-related CO2 pollution does not sacrifice economic growth. Twenty nations including the United States have shown for years that GDP can grow while carbon pollution declines. From 2010 to 2012, for example, U.S. energy-related CO2 pollution dropped 6% while GDP grew 4%.
- Wind power
- There are 75,000 megawatts of wind power installed in the U.S. today, contributing 5.4 % of the capacity of the power grid. This is expected to double to 10% by 2020, and to 20% by 2030 — creating 300,000 additional jobs by 2030.
- Jobs at wind farms, wind manufacturing facilities or both are located in 70% of U.S. congressional districts, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
- In 2017, new investment in U.S. wind farms was $14.7 billion. More than $30 billion is being invested in wind farms under development in the U.S. This does not include capital investments at more than 500 wind supply chain factories, and in the maintenance of the 49,000 existing utility scale turbines in the U.S.
- The 10 congressional districts that produce the most wind energy in the United States are located in Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Oregon, and California – five of the eight are categorized as “red” states.
- The development of off-shore wind farms will expand the resource beyond rural areas to the high-population corridors of the East and West Coasts. Since the first North American off-shore wind farm was opened in late 2016, the industry has secured a dozen leases from the federal government for more off-shore wind power.
- In 2007, wind was the principal renewable energy source in 7 states. Ten years later, it had spread to 16 states, according to EIA.
- In Kansas, a “red” state, wind now generates more power than coal, according to EIA. In the first six months of 2018, wind provided 42% of the state’s electricity compared to 35% for coal.
- Clean energy spurs substantial investment in the U.S. economy.
- Clean energy is spurring investment in related new technologies and industries. For example, 2015 revenues for energy storage grew by a factor of 12 from $58 million in 2014 to $734 million in 2015.
- Advanced energy technologies can save consumers billions of dollars with no sacrifice in grid reliability. Recently, Northern Indiana Public Service found it could save $4 billion by replacing is entire coal fleet with solar, wind, storage and demand management by 2028.
- In its 2019 Renewable Energy Industry Outlook, the global corporate consulting company Deloitte reports:
- Nearly half of the businesses that responded to its survey in 2018 said they are working to procure more electricity from renewable resources.
- “Corporations are continuing to procure increasing volumes of renewable energy, driven by sustainability goals and a growing variety of procurement options,” Deloitte reported. “As of early December 2018, 156 corporations across the globe, including many headquartered in the United States, had committed to achieving 100% renewable power…”
- “As corporate procurement expands, smaller companies are beginning to enter the renewable market, with support from established corporate buyers such as those in the technology sector. Larger companies are joining with smaller companies to develop new wind and solar projects.”
- “Climate change, corporate social responsibility, falling renewable costs, and the drive to diversify have renewed many oil and gas companies’ interest in the renewable energy sector. Several companies have increased renewable investing in the last two years, including investment in wind and solar energy projects and companies.”
- “Strong fundamentals, emerging policies, an expanding investment community, and advancing technologies will likely underpin U.S. renewable energy growth in 2019. Growing customer demand for renewable energy across almost all market segments continues to expand opportunities…Market developments such as the entry of smaller corporations into the corporate procurement market, renewed interest from oil and gas players, and greater involvement of asset management companies offer new opportunities for renewable growth.”
- “While the current U.S. administration is not focused on decarbonization, states, cities, communities, and businesses with increasingly ambitious sustainability goals are driving renewable growth.
- Clean energy is key to America’s rural economies.
- In 2017, rural landowners received $267 million in land-lease payments. Additional rural income was generated by segments of the renewable energy value chain.
- Many rural communities are surviving because of the growth of renewable energy income and jobs. Crop prices can be volatile and traditional sources of farm income are in decline. In 2016, net farm income dipped to its lowest level since 2002. The S. Department of Agriculture projected that net farm income would decline 12% from 2017 to 2018.
- More than 80% of U.S. wind capacity is located in low-income rural counties. The wind industry pays $222 million annually to farming families and rural landowners. Seventy percent of these drought-proof dollars – more than $100 billion — goes to counties with below average incomes. By 2030, rural landowners expect to receive $900 million a year for land leases for turbines.
- The economic benefits of wind power go beyond jobs and stable farm income. Small-town school districts benefit from increased property-tax revenues, while local taxes stay lower for rural residents. Oklahoma State University estimates that wind farms will pay schools more than $1 billion in their lifetimes.
- There are now 4 million jobs in rural biofuels and bio-based products sectors with a value of $369 billion to the U.S. economy.
- Utility scale solar is starting to have a large rural benefit, too. For example, North Carolina, a “red” state, is 3rd in the nation in installed solar capacity. Most of these solar farms are on rural lands. There are now 26,000 clean energy jobs in North Carolina. More than 5,000 of the jobs are in the state’s growing solar industry sector.
- U.S. businesses want more renewable energy development.
- Renewable energy has become a competitive advantage for U.S. businesses. Hundreds of companies including more than 150 from the United States have made significant commitments to purchase renewable energy, with dozens of them pledging to obtain 100% of their energy from renewables.
- More than 3,600 U.S. leaders representing more than 3,500 organizations have signed a declaration of support for the Paris climate agreement. The organizations represent more than 154 million Americans across all 50 states, according to the We Are Still In They have assured world leaders that U.S. mayors, county executives, governors, tribal leaders, college and university leaders, businesses, faith groups, cultural institutions, healthcare organizations, and investors will continue supporting climate action to meet the Paris Agreement.
- The Climate Group reports that companies making the most ambitious commitments to renewable energy have seen a 27% return on investment.
- Advanced energy keeps the United States’ competitive in the world economy.
- TheS. International Trade Administration (ITA) reports that despite low prices for fossil fuels, “Technology improvements, cost declines, and the catalytic influence of new financing structures, have turned the (renewable energy) sector into a driver of economic growth – both in the United States and around the world. The renewable energy industry remains one of the most vibrant, fast-changing, and transformative sectors of the global economy.”
- The competition for clean energy jobs is dynamic. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects there will be 24 million jobs in the clean energy sector by 2030 and 28.8 million jobs in 2050.
- The renewable energy sector employedmore than 10 million jobs around the world in 2017, up 5.3% from the year before. In addition to the United States, the jobs are concentrated in China, Brazil, India, Germany and Japan.
- However, 43% of all renewable energy jobs are in China alone, including 83% of jobs in solar heating and cooling, 66% in PV and 44% in wind power, IRENA reports.
- While PV jobs expanded in China and India in 2016, PV jobs declined in the United States, Japan and the EU. Solar photovoltaics were invented in the United States and wind turbines were pioneered here, yet we have ceded much of the current leadership in those technologies to other nations, principally China.
- Based on today’s sales,5 of the top 10 current wind turbine manufacturers are Chinese companies; only one of the top 10, General Electric, is from the U.S. China supplies about 70% of global demand for solar cells and modules. It was the world leader in 2015 in renewable power, biodiesel production, hydropower capacity, solar PV capacity, wind power capacity and solar water heating capacity.
- Global investment in renewable power was $266 billion in 2015, more than double the amount invested in new coal- and natural-gas-fired power generation. China led the world with 36% of that total investment.
7. Energy efficiency measures result in the equivalent of new tax-free paychecks for American families and businesses.
- Energy efficiency measures, the least expensive and most readily available form of clean energy, produce savings for all consumers – savings that can be more productively spent for other goods and services to produce a multiplier effect that stimulates local economies.
- Energy savings are especially important for low- and moderate-income households and communities, including the middle-class communities that heavily favored Republicans in the 2016 election.
- For businesses, energy savings can increase profits; be reinvested in employees, plant expansions and equipment; or can be used to lower the price of goods and services, making businesses more competitive in the global economy.
- The United States has enormous untapped potential to improve its energy productivity in every sector. In a landmark report a decade ago, McKinsey & Company estimated that a $520 billion national investment in energy efficiency would cut non-transportation energy consumption by 9.1 quadrillion BTUs by 2020 – about 23% of projected demand. The U.S. economy would save more than $1.2 trillion and avoid annual greenhouse gas emissions equal to replacing 1,000 conventional 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants with renewable energy.
- The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) estimates that the cost of electricity could be cut as much as 21% per state with energy efficiency improvements.
- The Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that cost-effective energy efficiency measures could save homeowners nearly $50 billion annually.
- DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that model building codes could save a total of nearly $70 billion in 2030 and $126 billion in 2040.
- Growing numbers of right-of-center organizations support renewable energy.
- The Center for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES), a right-of-center clean energy group, cites polling showing that 90% of those between 18 and 35 believe climate change is real and 85% of these millennials are more likely to vote for a candidate who backs a clean energy plan.
- The Conservative Energy Network (CEN) says that conservative support for clean energy is now a national movement that will ultimately change the culture of the Republican Party and will lead to a depoliticized energy landscape where bipartisan support for policy is attainable.
- Polling by CEN and CRES after the 2018 mid-term elections found a bipartisan consensus across America in support of “commonsense solutions to accelerate the development and use of more innovative, affordable, and reliable forms of clean energy (and) a tremendous opportunity exists for Republican state and federal policymakers to command the attention of voters across the political spectrum by seizing upon clean energy solutions”.
- The poll found that 67% of Republicans and 76% of Independents want government action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy.
- After the 2016 election, CEN found that 75% of Trump voters support “taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” and that 71% thought “our state should pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy, which means lowering our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and allowing an increase in electricity generation from emerging technologies like renewable energy as well as more energy efficiency.”
9. Clean energy reduces risks to national security.
- The national security establishment in the United States, including the military, intelligence and homeland security communities, understands that climate change is a risk to national security. This is due to the nature of climate change as a “threat multiplier,” which exacerbates existing and pending challenges in the security landscape.
- The security community has recognized and planned for these risks since the first term of the George W. Bush Administration. Climate risk analyses have been integrated into nearly 70 unclassified defense, intelligence, and homeland security assessments, strategies, and plans since 2003. During the G. W. Bush Administration alone, eight major unclassified documents from the defense and intelligence community warned of climate risks to key national security assets.
- Top defense officials regard the U.S. military’s use of clean and renewable energy as a strategy to increase America’s war-fighting capability and to reduce American casualties in the field. Fossil fuel supply convoys, for example, are among the most vulnerable vital military operations; attacks on fuel convoys have caused a significant number of casualties among U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The Department of Defense points out that sea level rise is a serious threat to scores of its coastal military installations in the U.S. and abroad.
- The U.S. military also believes multiple climate impacts, including sea level rise, competition for fish stocks, and food and water security concerns could all have negative security impacts. For example, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, identified climate change as “the biggest long term security threat” facing the Asia-Pacific region. “If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.”
- DOD has considered similar threats in Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Arctic. The concern is so acute that the USDOD is actively investing resources to comprehensively map the security implications of climate change in Africa and South Asia – two regions of increasing strategic interest to the U.S. due to increasing flows of refugees, terrorist networks, and other security risks.
- At home, solar, wind and biomass technologies allow military bases to “island”, i.e., decouple from the civilian grid and continue vital operations if and when power goes down.
- Renewable energy increases homeland security.
- The nation’s electric grid is vulnerable to disruption. Large weather events such as Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Matthew were each responsible for tens of billions of dollars in direct damages to power infrastructure and the loss of economic activity due to power outages. This vulnerability is even more concerning when the effects are the result of deliberate action, whether it is cyber or physical in nature, because the effects are focused on targets that would produce maximum damage.
- Critical defense and government infrastructure is almost entirely dependent on private energy systems, making the electric grid a prime target for attack to limit the ability of the U.S. military to deploy resources domestically or globally.
- The proliferation of automation throughout the grid makes it an even more valuable target for cyberattacks. Successful attacks in places like the Ukraine in 2015 and events like a public utility in Vermont detecting likely Russian malware on an employee’s computer in December of 2016 are symptomatic of the growing risk to the sector.
- Because sunlight and wind are ubiquitous resources, they allow the nation’s electric production to be decentralized and less vulnerable to the cascading effects of sabotage, terrorism, cyber-attacks and large-scale power interruptions.
- A large fraction of the U.S. military and economy depends on private, grid-based power sources. Countering this vulnerability requires distributed energy resources that can survive a failure in the grid and continue providing electricity to support the most vital functions of military and homeland defense along with key economic centers.
- Renewable fuels improve economic stability.
- American transportation is still 92% dependent on oil, including imported petroleum. In 2017, the top five sources of U.S. oil imports were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela and Iraq.
- The oil market is not a free market; it still can be dominated by the production decisions of OPEC and several national oil companies. Because oil prices are determined by the world oil market, increased U.S. oil and gas production does not protect Americans from economic disruptions due to foreign manipulation of oil supplies and prices. Nearly all of the nation’s economic recessions in the last half-century have been preceded by spikes in oil prices.
- Oil price volatility is estimated to have lost the U.S. $6.7 trillion in growth since 1970.
- The U.S. currently pays $155 million a day to OPEC countries for oil. We also pay $65-85 billion a year to protect oil supply lines. The $3 trillion dollar Iraq war was fought to protect U.S. access to oil supplies.
- The United States will continue to be buffeted by these negative economic impacts unless we continue to improve transportation efficiency and utilize alternative fuels.
- Indigenous renewable energy resources such as biofuels and vehicles powered by renewable electricity help insulate the United States’ economy from foreign manipulation and the inherent vulnerabilities of oil dependence.
- Clean energy is important to public health and health-care spending.
- In its 2018 report on the state of the nation’s air, the American Lung Association (ALA) said four in 10 Americans – nearly 134 million people — are still exposed to unhealthful levels of air pollution, mostly from vehicles and power plants.
- The ALA said its research shows that “a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health”. It cited record-setting heat and high ozone days. Ozone pollution grew significantly worse in 2014-2016, the ALA said.
- “While most of the nation has much cleaner air quality than even a decade ago, too many cities suffered increased ozone from the increased temperature and continued high particle pollution from wildfires driven by changing rain patterns,” the ALA reported. As climate change continues, cleaning up these pollutants will become ever more challenging.
- Climate change poses many threats to human health, including worsened air quality and extreme weather events. The nation must work to reduce emissions that worsen climate. The ALA says the Clean Air Act must remain intact and enforcedto enable the nation to continue to protect all Americans from the dangers of air pollution.
- The ALA lists six key threats to the nation’s progress toward cleaner air:
- Weakening the Clean Air Act
- Repealing plans to reduce carbon pollution from power plants
- Removing limits on emissions from oil and gas operations
- Allowing more pollution from trucks and cars
- Cutting funding and expertise to clean up America’s air
- Stacking the deck to deny scientific evidence
- The ALA encourages states to take steps to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, with or without the Obama Clean Power Plan. It points out that power plants are the largest stationary source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing 40% of all energy-related CO2 emissions in 2013. CO2 limits could prevent as many as 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks in children in 2030.
- The health costs associated with mortality and morbidity attributable to pollution from coal fired power plants in the U.S. run upwards of $60 billion a year (National Academy of Sciences). The health costs of transportation related air pollution are between $50 and $80 billion annually (American Public Health Association).
- Heat waves are the largest cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. The best-case scenarios for the end of the century, assuming serious reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, have the hottest days in the U.S. rising around 3°F; current emissions trends will result in increases in the 10-15°F range.
- Floods caused by heavy rainfall events – already increasing due to climate change — are the second-deadliest weather-related hazard. Other anticipated or already occurring health impacts linked to climate change include the spread of vector-borne diseases; illnesses caused by smoke from wildfires; high pollen concentrations; and flood-related pathogens in water and food.
- On a global basis, the World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, diarrhea and heat stress.
- Individual renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures—particularly those that replace coal-fired power plants—will have positive health implications worth millions of dollars, according to researchers at Harvard University. Their study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change evaluated the impact of four different renewable energy or energy efficiency installations in six locations in the mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. Depending on the site and installation, they found that the health and climate benefits of installing renewables in each situation ranged from US $5.7 million to $210 million per year.
 Levelized cost (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of an energy resource divided by its energy production. It allows apples-to-apples comparisons of different energy resources. Lazard’s 2018 report showed that the LCOE of onshore wind power was $29/MWh compared to $36 for coal. The LCOE of solar power was equal to that of coal. When subsidized, the cost of on-shore wind power and solar power were $14/MWh and $32/MWh respectively.
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