The climate change crisis is here, as is our need to implement viable, efficacious solutions. It is now clear that the US must shift to cleaner energy technologies, invest in energy innovation, and convert to electric transportation. In response, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) introduced a 2019 resolution calling for a Green New Deal (GND). The resolution acknowledges that the US has historically been responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions — having emitted 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions through 2014 — and, concurrently, because the US has a high technological capacity, it must take a leading role in reducing emissions through economic transformation.
I’ve written several articles about the GND, touching on points about its growing US Congressional support, economic viability, the Sunrise Movement’s political emphases, early and costly GND political missteps, the 60 Minutes interview with AOC, even how Puerto Rico needs a version to overcome federal post-hurricane neglect. With noble intentions to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers, the GND has received much scrutiny.
It must be said that the climate change mitigation goals of the GND, which include achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, necessarily displace the fossil fuel industry workforce. Specific solutions to this upheaval come from 2 associate professors from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review.
Sanya Carley and David Konisky argue that the cost to transition to the goals within the Green New Deal must take into account their effects on vulnerable communities, including those whose economies and public finances rely on the extraction and use of fossil fuels. They say these vulnerabilities are implicit to the goals of the GND and that the GND can go so far as to ensure that traditionally marginalized communities reap the benefits from the shift to clean energy.
- In Appalachia and other coal-mining regions, a further decline in production will lead to additional job losses, tax revenue erosion, and otherwise weakened socioeconomic conditions.
- Communities hosting coal-fired power plant operations may be similarly affected.
- A transition to cleaner sources of energy may also result in increased prices to power homes and transportation, which will place further financial burdens on households that spend a higher share of their income on energy.
- Some communities will be excluded from the benefits of clean energy jobs due to a mismatch of skills and a lack of training opportunities, as well as access to new, efficient, and low-carbon energy technologies due to a lack of affordability or access.
“Taking advantage of these early opportunities will not only help transform and protect vulnerable communities,” the authors state, “it will also allow companies to secure new modes of revenue.”
Carly and Konisky suggest 2 broad and complementary opportunities for businesses.
Support Green Initiatives
Economically sustainable, low-carbon initiatives can help regions on the economic frontlines of the clean energy transition where job losses and disruption to the economic and social fabric of their communities are wreaking havoc. “Economic development opportunities targeted to these areas, as well as those that are likely to be affected in the years to come, can help revive stagnating local economies and insulate them from the downsides of the transition,” Carley and Konisky say. They suggest that creating new economic enterprises where coal extraction previously thrived is a positive step forward.
One example they offer is chronicled within the Rocky Mountain Institute’s report titled, “Sunshine for Mines.” The initiative looks at ways to reinvent energy value by developing strategies to turn low-carbon energy technologies into viable decarbonization solutions for the mining industry. Mining and resource extraction is an energy-intensive industry, contributing almost 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Possible second-life opportunities highlighted in this initiative include using the abandoned mine to house alternative energy sources such as pumped hydroelectricity or solar panels. (Check out their resource, “5 Reasons Your Mine Should Invest in On-Site Renewables” for an insight into their delicate persuasive approach.)
The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition also works to convert mining-impacted lands in Central Appalachia into sustainable economic development sites. They begin by “tapping into the resiliency and work ethic of former miners and other coalfield workers,” who are trained to restore landscapes while building profitable businesses in the fields of agriculture, forestry, renewable energy, and advanced technology. The framework for the Coalition is carried out through the Coalfield Development “33-6-3” model. Each week, crewmembers complete 33 hours of paid work, 6 credit hours of higher education, and 3 hours of personal development mentorship. At the end of their 2.5 year contract, crew members have thus gained invaluable work experience, earned an Associates Degree, and gained clarity on life goals as well as the personal assets needed to attain those goals. Among their career options are agricultural ventures such as hemp farms, lavender field land conversions, outdoor recreation resorts, and recycling and reuse centers.
In other areas, Carley and Konisky says businesses can be more proactive in their efforts to expand access to renewable energy. By working directly with local governments, companies can aid disadvantaged populations through urban neighborhood energy deployment efforts. In 2016, DTE Energy took this approach and partnered with the City of Detroit to install over 6,500 solar panels and provide energy to over 450 Detroit households. Such developments provide all residents, not just those with the highest incomes, the opportunity to access clean, carbon-free energy.
Develop Inclusive Business Models
“What Would the Green New Deal Mean for Businesses?” describes two energy business models that have evolved over the past decade and which demonstrate possibilities for specifically targeting vulnerable populations.
Subscription-based community solar and energy service companies (ESCOs): In subscription-based community solar, people buy a subscription to a solar project that is owned and operated by a utility, another energy provider, or their community. They reap the benefits of solar access — reduced emissions and possibly financial savings — without incurring the large up-front cost that comes with purchasing and installing their own solar panels. In ESCOs, firms help other companies design a plan for energy savings through energy efficiency, conservation, or by installing new renewable energy technologies on-site. The ESCO is paid through a portion of the energy cost savings.
New business models for utilities: Utilities can serve functions such as running community solar programs and providing energy efficiency services. They can also provide direct consumer load controls, rent storage systems for residential applications, and other consumer-oriented energy services that help extend the benefits of the energy transition to all communities, not just those that are wealthy.
Such new business models are a start to helping individuals and organizations overcome the challenge of making large up-front investments in efficient technologies. Additional innovation and creative financing options need to be part of the bigger picture of incentives. Federal, state, and local government must create incentives, or at least not put up barriers, the authors add, to facilitate the inclusivity of the energy transition. Government also needs to create new programs that encourage companies to partner more directly with public and nonprofit organizations to develop strategies for expanding access to efficiency programs and renewable energy to households with limited financial means.
“The Green New Deal has amplified the importance of inclusion and equity in the already intense debate about the best ways to accelerate the energy transition in the United States,” Carley and Konisky state.
Criticism of the GND must be weighed against considerations like the existential threat to communities where the fossil fuel industry has scattered decades of broken promises.
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