The Clean Energy Economy: 2.7 Million Green Jobs, 40% Fewer Emissions

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Hey everybody – here’s a great idea: Let’s cut American greenhouse gas emissions 40% and energy demand 30%, then create 2.7 million jobs while lowering the national unemployment rate 1.5%

Oh, and by the way, this will only cost 1.2% of the current United States gross domestic product. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Now it gets better – these are green jobs, and renewable energy is the key to unlocking it all.

Welcome to the brave new world that’s “truly within reach” according to “Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities,” an upcoming report from the University of Massachusetts and Center for American Progress.

Green jobs rally image via CleanTechnica

A Clean Energy Economy “Truly Within Reach”

By now, the fossil fuel industry’s talking points are tired and stale: Expanding renewables will crush the American economy and cause blackouts without really impacting climate change.

The only problem with that narrative is that it looks more and more like fiction with every passing day. “The fundamental imperative of climate stabilization is not an outlandish fantasy, but is truly within reach,” said Robert Pollin, a distinguished professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts and lead author of the report.

Green Growth extends the new clean economy narrative with some compelling figures, starting with a cost-benefit analysis. Achieving the report’s goals would cost $200 billion annually, including both public and private investment. Net public investment would comprise just $55 billion per year, falling well within the $44-60 billion America already invests in clean energy annually.

Lower Price Tag Than Fossil Fuel Or Bank Bailout Costs

$200 billion may sound like a hefty tab, but consider the following: It would be just 1.4% of the federal budget, while adding up to roughly 40% LESS than what America invested in the oil and gas industry during 2013 and about 20% the total spent on bank bailouts in 2008. And, that money could prevent projected economic damages of $150 billion per year if temperatures increase 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Broken down even further, $90 billion would go toward increasing energy efficiency in buildings, transportation, and industry – investments which would reduce overall U.S. energy consumption 30% compared to current levels while paying for themselves in three years followed by net positive financial gains.

Rooftop solar PV installers
Solar installers image via CleanTechnica

The remaining $110 billion then goes toward renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, geothermal, small hydropower, and low-emission bioenergy, raising overall U.S. renewables production more than fourfold. Renewable investments may wind up exceeding these forecasts – even the U.S Energy Information Administration, which traditionally underestimates renewable energy growth, expects cost parity with fossil fuels by 2017.

Our Economy And Our Climate Both Win When Fossil Fuels Lose 

But back to the economic environmental payoff of this shift toward clean energy. Green Growth predicts investing just $200 billion annually will create 4.2 million overall jobs from new investments combined with operations and maintenance, with a 2.7 million net increase in total jobs even after an estimated contraction in fossil fuel industries, and a net employment expansion at all levels of pay in the U.S. labor market.

Using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) proposed emissions reduction target of 40% from 2005 levels by 2035, Green Growth estimates full implementation of its recommendations estimates annual U.S. energy consumption falling 70 quadrillion BTUs within 20 years, cutting emissions 40% compared to current levels.

Potential US CO2 emissions
Potential US CO2 emissions graph via Center for American Progress

Keep in mind the IPCC target is agreed to by most world governments and climate scientists as the mark needed to prevent dangerous climate change, and under business-as-usual, annual U.S. emissions would be roughly 80% above the IPCC goal in 2030.

Of course, in any scenario, winners and losers emerge and Green Growth is no exception. U.S. coal consumption would have to fall 60%, oil consumption would have to fall 40%, and natural gas consumption 30% in order to meet IPCC targets. Oil imports would also have to fall to continue taking advantage of domestic oil supplies while improving the U.S. trade deficit, and nuclear power generation would have to remain roughly constant.

Clean Energy Economy Growth Solves Issues “As A Nation”

Green Growth concedes the obvious political challenges posed by such a marked transition to a clean energy economy, but it lays out a clear imperative, put best by the head of one of America’s biggest labor unions:

“America is at an economic and environmental crossroads. Thousands of communities across the country have been devastated by the closure of industrial facilities and the loss of family-supporting jobs,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers. “At the same time, we’ve also witnessed communities devastated by weather-related storms. We need to confront these issues head-on as a nation.”

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