The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has governments struggling with how to restart a global economy that has come to a grinding halt. Some short term needs have to be addressed as soon as possible — avoiding starvation, extending unemployment benefits, and arranging for emergency healthcare for those infected. But even as the world faces such daunting tasks, decisions made today will have enormous consequences for the future. While the emergency today is great, a much bigger emergency waits just around the corner as the Earth continues to overheat.
Governments in thrall to fossil fuel interests, such as the United States, see the virus as a chance to roll back advances in renewable energy. After all, the oil and gas industries provide for 10,000,000 jobs around the world. Surely those jobs must be protected, right?
Actually, says the International Renewable Energy Agency, investing in renewable energy and a green economy would create tens of millions of jobs worldwide and provide a return on investment of between 300 and 800% over time. Which would we rather have, support for a dying industry or support for the energy systems of the future? If you are Donald Trump, that’s a no brainer, which is appropriate given his deficiencies in intellect and “ready, shoot, aim” modus operandi.
That is precisely the wrong thing to do, says Francesco La Camera, director general of IRENA. “Governments are facing a difficult task of bringing the health emergency under control while introducing major stimulus and recovery measures. By accelerating renewables and making the energy transition an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve multiple economic and social objectives in the pursuit of a resilient future that leaves nobody behind.”
Some of the benefits include eliminating 70% of global carbon emissions by 2050. That in itself would pay enormous dividends in terms of preserving the ability of the Earth to support human life. In all, La Camera says, investing $130 trillion over the next 30 years to promote the adoption of renewable energy systems would provide economic benefits 3 to 8 times the amount of those investments.
Putting a value on a sustainable global environment is difficult, but it’s not hard to imagine the economic cost of not having one. The latest Outlook report from IRENA foresees a total of 42 million jobs in renewable energy plus another 21 million employed in energy efficiency fields, and 15 million in system flexibility pursuits by 2050. IRENA says it will focus on advancing collaborative action between nations to unlock investment in renewables.
Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute, tells The Guardian, “As the world looks to recover from the current health and economic crises, we face a choice: we can pursue a modern, clean, healthy energy system, or we can go back to the old, polluting ways of doing business. We must choose the former.”
Ignacio Galán is CEO of Spanish renewable energy company Iberdrola, which owns Scottish Power. He tells The Guardian his company will continue to invest in renewable energy as well as electricity networks and batteries to help integrate clean energy in the electricity. “A green recovery is essential as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. The world will benefit economically, environmentally and socially by focusing on clean energy,” he says. “Aligning economic stimulus and policy packages with climate goals is crucial for a long-term viable and healthy economy.”
No one in Washington, DC cares a flying fig for anything La Camera, Steer, or Galán have to say, of course. Their sole focus is being faithful lackeys to the fossil fuel interests who put them in power in the first place. Which is why it is vitally important to vote these crooks and liars out of office at the first opportunity. Your chance to do so is coming soon.