By William S. Becker
Some of the Republican Party’s leaders say they love the Green New Deal – not because of its merits, but because they think it will keep Democrats from taking control of Congress and the White House less than two years from now. Sadly, their reaction is not about the jobs an ambitious transition to clean energy would create, or the illnesses and deaths it would prevent, or the need to keep weather disasters from getting worse. As usual, it’s all about the next election.
Take Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example. “Let’s vote on the Green New Deal!” he tweeted about the plan unveiled last week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey. “Americans deserve to see what kind of solutions far-left Democrats are offering to deal with climate change.” Sen. Mitch McConnell announced impishly that he’ll schedule a vote on the Deal just to see how many Democrats have the guts to vote for it.
The Democrats’ first response should be to ask the Republican leaders what their plan is, besides pretending that global climate change does not exist.
Democrats in the House plan to explore a number of ways to make the nation’s air cleaner and communities safer from climate change. If they develop a consensus in their caucus, it may or may not be close to the Ocasio-Cortez draft. Ocasio-Cortez herself is asking for input. What we can say with certainty is that she has kick-started the national discussion about Congress’s response to climate change. That is a significant step forward.
Perhaps the Democrats’ second response to Graham and McConnell should be “Game on!” Polls show that most Americans want federal leadership on climate change, and there is plenty of evidence that decisive climate action would be great for the nation’s jobs and economy as well as the health and safety of families.
Before I offer some of that evidence, here is an important caveat once again: This should not be a Republican versus Democrat issue. Climate change should not be about the next election; it should be about the next generation and the ones after that. There can be different approaches to mitigating the impacts of global warming, but at this late stage they all must be aggressive.
There is a growing number of Republicans who are ready to have an actual conversation about this. There are politically conservative, right of center and libertarian organizations that have been active for a long time on the need to price carbon and to shift the economy to cleaner and more stable energy resources. The several House committees discussing climate change should invite those organizations to testify and to offer their ideas.
But back to the evidence that addressing climate change is good for the country, Red Country as well as Blue:
- 2 million Americans go to work every day in clean energy industries like energy efficiency, renewable energy, biofuels, electric vehicles and energy storage. Clean energy employs more workers than the fossil fuel industry in 42 states and Washington D.C.
- Four states represented all or in part by Republicans in Congress — Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — generate more than 30% of their electricity from wind. They employ more than 9,000 people in the wind industry. Another red state, Texas, leads the nation in wind power.
- Nearly 70% of the wind power produced in the United States comes from states that President Trump carried in 2016.
- Many rural communities have survived because of the growth of renewable income and jobs. They depend on renewable energy to supplement their traditional incomes. Last year’s net farm income, for example, was far below the 10-year average because of weak crop prices. But the money that farmers and rural landowners earn from wind power – and that rural businesses earn serving farms – is not vulnerable to falling crop prices, presidential trade wars or fluctuations in oil prices. Wind power is a water-free, pollution-free cash crop that paid $267 million to farming families and rural landowners in 2017. Seventy percent of these drought-proof dollars go to counties with below average incomes. By 2030, rural landowners are expected to receive $900 million a year for land leases for turbines.
- Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are at the cutting edge of crafting 21st century energy solutions. The bio-based economy last year generated more than $200 billion in the U.S. and supported nearly 1.7 million jobs.
- A study published by the journal Energy Economics found that the growth in solar energy jobs alone could absorb coal industry layoffs and provide full-time careers for former coal workers over the next 15 years. Even if the federal government provided all of the costs of retraining coal workers (on the high side, less than $2 billion), it would be only a fraction of the money the government spends every year to subsidize fossil fuels.
- It’s time to get rid of the old myth that renewable energy is expensive. Lazard reports that wind energy and utility-sale solar power are less expensive than electricity from coal, nuclear or natural gas. And because they are free, sunlight and wind protect electric customers, including businesses, from future increases in the cost of fossil fuels.
- We should get past another myth, too: that if we reduce our energy use or switch to clean energy, we will slow down the economy. More than 20 nations including ours have grown their economies at the same time they cut their energy consumption and carbon pollution.
- If we want more proof that renewable energy is good business, we can look to the many American companies that plan major investments in solar and wind power. Hundreds of companies worldwide including more than 150 from the United States have made significant commitments, with dozens pledging to obtain all of their energy from renewables, including Apple, Adobe, Alcoa, Amazon, Autodesk, Bank of America, Biogen, Bloomberg, Cisco Systems, Coca Cola, Dupont, Facebook, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Hewlett Packard, IFF, Infosys, Interface, JetBlue, Johnson & Johnson, Kohl’s, Mars, MGM Resorts, Microsoft, News Corp, Nike, PepsiCo, P&G, Rackspace, Salesforce, Starbucks, Steelcase, VF Corporation, Voya Financial, Staples, Walmart and Wells Fargo.
- California plans to get 100% of its electricity from zero-carbon resources by 2045. Hawaii plans to generate 100% of its power from renewable resources by the same year. Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to millions of customers in eight states, has committed to generate 100% of its energy from carbon-free resources by 2050.
- America cannot sit idly by while the rest of the world races to capture clean energy markets. Experts predict there will be 24 million renewable energy jobs worldwide by 2030. Today, 60% the world’s renewable energy jobs are in Asia, including 3.5 million in China, while fewer than 10% of renewable energy jobs are in the U.S. We are letting climate deniers and partisan politics force us to lose our international competitiveness.
- After the 2016 election, the Conservative Energy Network (CEN) concluded that conservative support for clean energy is now a national movement. CEN polling after the 2016 election showed that 75% of Trump voters supported “taking action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy,” and that 71 percent of Trump voters thought their states “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.”
- Ultimately, CEN members say, this movement will change the culture of the GOP, and will lead to a depoliticized energy landscape where bipartisan support for policy is attainable.
- A study by Harvard University looked at the health benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency in six regions around the United States. It found that those benefits ranged from about $6 million to $210 million each year.
The United States needs to get on the right side of history here. Congress should help it happen. It will take leaders who not only recognize the reality of global climate change, but who also want to capture the incredible opportunities involved in doing something about it.