Last year threw into stark relief America’s interlinked economic, energy security, and climate crises. On the economic front Americans called out those lawmakers who work relentlessly to build an economy that works for the wealthy few rather than for all of us, but faced determined resistance from conservatives bent on preserving the status quo. At the same time our nation’s debilitating dependence on fossil fuels and the damages caused by climate disruption became ever more obvious. Yet here too conservative resistance was implacable. Backed by climate-science deniers and opponents of clean energy-generously funded by their industry backers-conservatives ramped up their campaign of disinformation about dirty energy to push their pollution-promoting policy advocacy work in Washington and around the nation.
The result: seemingly insurmountable gridlock.
And yet 2011 also was a year of historic clean energy investments. The United States passed China to become the global leader among nations in clean energy investment, and new data revealed the startling growth of several clean energy sectors in years of sluggish growth for the overall economy. These trends are further evidence of how our economic, energy, and climate crises offer enormous opportunity to build a clean energy economy that makes America more secure, competitive, and equitable. By transitioning our energy infrastructure from capital-intensive, risky, and often highly polluting energy sources to clean, labor-intensive energy sources we can create many new jobs, grow our middle class, ensure greater energy security, and protect our nation and planet from the predictable ravages of unchecked climate change.
In fact, as we argue in this paper, we can take steps today that will get us on the path toward achieving three critical goals:
- Producing more clean energy to grow the economy
- Reducing pollution while saving energy and dollars
- Building more resilient and balanced economies and communities
These goals remain achievable even in today’s gridlocked political environment.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics just released data showing 3.1 million jobs in the United States associated with the production of green goods and services in 2010, accounting for 2.4 percent of total employment. Of those 3.1 million jobs, 2.3 million were found within the private sector, with 461,800 in the manufacturing sector alone. An earlier Brookings Institution report produced similar numbers and showed that the newest renewable energy industries grew at a “torrid pace” annually between 2003 and 2010: Solar thermal expanded by 18.4 percent; wind power by 14.9 percent; solar PV by 10.7 percent; and biofuels by 8.9 percent. Overall these newer “clean tech” sectors grew by 8.3 percent annually, double the growth rate for the national economy over the same period.
But we need to do much more. We must accelerate the economic transformation that has already begun and move forcefully into a completely new clean energy economic era defined by stronger industries, better infrastructure, and a steadily growing middle class.
In this paper we propose how to do just that. We identify clean energy and climate solutions that are effective, strategic, and winnable this year. We focus on public policies at the global, national, regional, state, and local levels as well as on private-sector actions that simultaneously address our three broad goals. In the pages that follow we will detail how to achieve these goals this year, but here are our proposals in brief.
Produce more clean energy and grow the economy
- Generate a significant percentage of energy in our nation from renewable and low-carbon sources
- Reduce the cost of clean energy deployment by attracting private investment
- Strengthen our economy by helping our industries and workers capture the economic opportunity of clean energy
Reduce pollution by saving energy and dollars
- Realize significant energy savings in all sectors of our economy
- Reduce greenhouse gas pollution with carbon prices and smart clean energy standards
- Achieve oil savings
Build more resilient and balanced economies and communities
- Ensure climate resiliency and restoration
- Balance energy production with other economic and conservation priorities on public lands and waters