You could have bet your retirement fund on it. Status quo defenders are whipping out that old pet phrase — “job killing” — and its usual variants to malign President Joe Biden’s plan to jump-start the country’s overdue shift to a clean energy future.
The job-killing claim is as specious as it is predictable and shortsighted. If it’s jobs we care about — jobs now and jobs a decade and more down the line — a clean-energy future is our best friend. And our worst enemy is runaway climate change.
The Biden administration has wisely emphasized job creation as an essential part of its Build Back Better recovery plan. The goal, Biden says, “is building a modern, resilient climate infrastructure and clean energy future that will create millions of good-paying union jobs (with) prevailing wages and benefits.”
Jobs now and jobs in the immediate future — as important as they are, Biden says, there’s something greater at stake: the urgent need to confront the “existential threat” of climate change.
Climate crisis creates economic havoc
An exaggerated scare tactic? Not according to the vast, vast majority of scientists, whose voluminous research shows the continued buildup of carbon in the atmosphere fueling ever more destructive storms, rendering parts of the planet too hot for habitation, and throwing off ocean currents and sea levels, among other devastating effects.
If you want to know what that might look like when your kids are your age, think of the ferocious storms and wildfires of recent years. Think of the record-breaking heat waves we have had. And multiply.
The greater the environmental damage, the greater the economic wreckage, according to analyses by credible organizations, including the Brookings Institution and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The latter reports that unless emissions are reduced, weather disasters are expected to become more severe and frequent, causing trillions of dollars worth of economic damage.
Climate-related job loss is more than mere conjecture about some distant future. Along the Long Island Sound, for example, ocean warming has all but wiped out a once thriving lobster-fishing industry and the jobs it created. California’s infamous Camp Fire, whose smoke caused business disruptions as far away as San Francisco, destroyed the town of Paradise and virtually all its economic (and employment) activity.
A blindness to anything past the immediate short term, and anything other than the way things have always been, characterizes critics’ response to the administration’s plan. A New York Post editorial calls the “far left” Biden plan a “war on American jobs.” Biden’s moratorium on new drilling leases will “kill” more than 58,000 jobs, warns the Western Energy Alliance.
Employment opportunities matter. But what critics fail to mention is that the transition to clean energy doesn’t just take jobs. It makes them.
“It is expected that reduced employment in fossil fuels through the transition can be more than offset by a rise in employment in renewables and construction,” according to a study by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. It projects that a green energy transition could create $26 trillion in benefits across the global economy by 2030.
Memo to politicians and pundits: Texas is not all about oil and gas anymore
In a determined switchover to clean, green and resilient, all those solar and wind installations are not going to construct themselves. All those sea walls and other infrastructure are not going to be shored up by elves. Robots alone are not going to manufacture all the electric cars that General Motors is committed to rolling out as part of its plan to go all electric by 2035.
The economic and employment benefits apply not only to the tree-hugging blue states but also to the Western states we most associate with oil. Consider Texas: This oilman’s mecca has become a clean energy superpower, as Greentech Media puts it. Texas is now second only to California in its number of clean energy jobs.
Dismal jobs picture if we do nothing
“Anybody who thinks transitioning the economy to clean energy will kill — not create — jobs is simply out of touch with reality,” says Bob Keefe, executive director of the nonpartisan advocacy group Environmental Entrepreneurs. “We’re creating way more jobs through clean energy than fossil fuels. This is the energy industry today.”
The truth is that the clean energy economic transformation won’t kill jobs so much as change jobs. How the quantity and quality of the new jobs stack up against the old depends, of course. It depends on the particulars of the policies and practices that emerge from federal, state and local governments and the on-the-ground behavior of innumerable companies, civic institutions and citizens.
Warming trend: Joe Biden can work with conservatives on climate change. Many of them are ready to act
What we do know is that a society racked by climate degradation is a society with dim economic prospects and a dismal jobs picture.
You want to know what really “kills jobs”? A world thrown into chaos and calamity by the kind of climate disruption of which we have started to get more of a glimpse in recent years: more destructive storms and fires, populations forced to vacate regions that are no longer habitable, rising seas turning touristy beach towns into ghost towns.
No stable climate means no stable society, which means no stable economy, which means no stable jobs market. So yes to jobs and the new energy economy that will create and sustain them — jobs next year, jobs next decade, jobs for the next generation. To paraphrase “When Harry Met Sally,” once you realize your energy and economic future, you want that future to start as soon as possible.
A member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, Tom Krattenmaker writes on religion and values in public life. His most recent book is “Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower.” Follow him on Twitter: @TKrattenmaker