By Andrew Breiner - Think Progress, October 2, 2014
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.
At first glance, it looks grim.
The EPA indicated Thursday that industry in the U.S. released more carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2013 than 2012, the wrong trend when we need to be making large cuts to get global warming under control. Meanwhile a report from the Center For American Progress and the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) shows that we’re nowhere near cutting CO2 enough to prevent catastrophic global warming. If we continue with business as usual, U.S. emissions in 2030 will actually be slightly higher than they were in 2010, 80 percent higher than they need to be. Even with the “full implementation of the best clean energy policies currently considered achievable,” what the authors call the “aggressive reference case”, we’d still be well above the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) target, by 40 percent.
“I kind of fell off my chair,” Robert Pollin, one of the report’s authors, said in a phone interview. “If you look at the institutions that do serious models of our energy future over the next generation or so, they’re saying we’re not going to control climate change. That’s the most likely scenario. That’s shocking.” But this report makes the case that there’s still hope. “The results from our research say that we can achieve the emissions reduction target through very significant action,” Pollin said, but “we can achieve it.”
“As long as we’re committed, it’s not beyond reach.”
In the report, “Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities,” the authors lay out how the government should take action to cut carbon in extensive detail. On energy efficiency, for example, the report describes specific ways of improving efficiency, and how much energy they can be expected to save, from the realm of consumer appliances to industrial practices in the pulp and paper industry. And efficiency is where the authors expect to see a lot of progress.
“The single biggest opportunity,” Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress said, “is the urgency of retrofitting buildings to use less energy.” That has the benefit of being a very labor-heavy task, as is much of the work needed to cut carbon. “When you invest in clean economy,” Hendricks said, “you’re taking dollars from extractive resources and investing them in high-skill, high wage jobs.”
The report estimates 4.2 million jobs would be created by its recommendations, and 2.7 million after accounting for the loss of fossil fuel jobs. With a labor market of 155 million, that might not seem like so much, Pollin said, “but in an all else equal world, that’s a 1.5 to 2% reduction in the unemployment rate.”
And lower unemployment means more bargaining power for workers. “It directly contradicts the notion that investing in the environment means job losses, that it’s bad for jobs,” Pollin said. The Green Growth plan would also include money to retrain workers who lose their jobs as the economy shifts away from fossil fuels. Since concern for workers is at the forefront of the report, Pollin said, “we’ve taken a lot of pains on transitional policies for workers.”
One million dollars in spending on fossil fuels results in only 5.3 jobs if spent in oil, natural gas, and coal, the report says, compared with 16.7 jobs if spent in clean energy investments. Spending on renewables not only creates high-skill, high wage jobs at a higher rate than spending on fossil fuels, but it also creates a good number of low-wage jobs with opportunity for advancement. “It really creates an opportunity to create career ladders and training opportunities into the middle class,” Hendricks said.
Government spending would be an essential part of making this plan a reality, but not nearly as much as one might think for an effort to contain catastrophic global warming. The total yearly investments, public and private, needed to make the Green Growth plan a reality would be only $200 billion, which is 1.2 percent of total U.S. gross domestic product. The total government expenditure per year would average $55 billion, which is 1.4 percent of the total government budget. “There’s a window to make the investments that need to be done,” Hendricks said, “but it’s a small window and rapidly narrowing.”
While there’s a lot out there saying in the abstract what we need to do to limit climate change, action can sometimes seem impossible and far-off. But this is an actual road map, Hendricks said, “on the investments in technology, infrastructure, and communities,” that will actually solve the problem. And it translates “into a very compelling roadmap on how to rebuild the economy.”