by Andres Jimenez and Bob Shippee
During times of crisis, Americans find innovative solutions in order to meet the challenge of the moment. Today, we face unprecedented economic problems in the wake of the COVID-19 global pandemic. 20 million people have applied for unemployment benefits, including 6.6 million in just one week earlier this month. And while our economy absorbs this body blow, we continue to face another emergency that for years has affected both our economy and health: the climate crisis.
These twin disasters are related: COVID-19 related symptoms are exacerbated in areas that are hardest hit by climate change. Those most at risk of dying from the virus are those who live in areas where air quality has been impaired by emissions from burning fossil fuels. These mostly lower-income communities were also hardest hit by the Great Recession in 2008 and are now being ravaged again.
We can combat both crises with the same solution: investment in sustainable energy jobs to put Americans back to work while improving air quality and health.
Expanding renewable energy will dramatically increase employment. Senate Democrats, with help from the American Society of Civil Engineers, have released a Blueprint to Rebuild America showing that a $100 billion investment in clean energy infrastructure would create 1.3 million new jobs. This growth opportunity is in stark contrast to the declining outlook for the coal industry, which has lost 60 percent of its jobs due to cheap natural gas and automation. It can also help offset the struggles of the broader manufacturing sector, which shed 46,000 jobs in 2019 alone, thanks to global trends and the administration’s trade war. These workers’ skills can be utilized to build, install and maintain solar arrays and wind turbines, a phenomenon that is already occurring in states like West Virginia.
As we look ahead it is clear Congress will need to pass additional legislation to further respond to the pandemic, giving us a once in a lifetime opportunity to respond. The next package should include incentives for companies to commit to carbon neutrality, such as the reinstatement of Production Tax Credits which convinced conservative politicians like Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley to commit Iowa to rely 100 percent on wind by 2030. These legislative measures should include incentives for battery storage technology, so that we can store electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. And it should include major investment in energy efficiency, which saves consumers and small businesses money while employing hundreds of thousands. Non-outsourceable clean energy jobs are what Americans from all political stripes support.
At this pivotal moment, we have a choice to make as a country: we can either continue down the road that we have stumbled down for years by trying patchwork solutions to address large, systemic problems. Or we can chart a new path that not only helps save the planet but puts our neighbors back to work and improves public health. With bold Congressional action, we can make the right choice.
Andres Jimenez is the Senior Director of Government Affairs at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He also sits on the Fairfax County Planning Board and is a former candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter at @andresforva
Bob Shippee is the Legislative Chair and Executive Committee member for the Virginia Sierra Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.