Building a Green Economy
It is time to put Americans back to work and guarantee a livable planet for future generations by weaning ourselves off of our dangerous addiction.
“We will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.” – President Barack Obama
The United States is facing a convergence of crises. The economy is in shambles, young people are entering the worst job market since the great depression, we are fighting wars to protect some of the last remaining oil reserves, and the stability of our future is threatened by the violent repercussions of the climate crisis. All of these monumental problems have a common source: our addiction to dirty forms of energy.
It is time to put Americans back to work and guarantee a livable planet for future generations by weaning ourselves off of our dangerous addiction. President Obama’s budget called for America to close the carbon loophole, deploy renewable energy technology, and make our houses and buildings more energy efficient while creating millions of green jobs. Young people have taken the forefront in pushing for this to happen in efforts such as Power Shift. Here is a run-down on the situation:
- Greenhouse Gases are accumulating in the atmosphere, warming up our climate and changing weather patterns. If nothing is done to address this problem, fresh water scarcity, sea level rise, and desertification will cause a global humanitarian crisis.
- Energy prices have been steadily increasing due to rising demand and shrinking supply of fossil fuels, worsening our economic troubles. A cap on carbon emissions, the rapid deployment of renewable energy, and using energy more efficiently are the only things that will stop the steady upward trend.
- The current unemployment rate in the United States is 8.1%, the highest it’s been in 25 years. Because fossil fuels are a finite source, they create boom-bust local economies with volatile job markets. Renewable energy, public transit and sustainable construction create more permanent and decentralized jobs.
- The Millennial generation is graduating to the worst job market in many years and our educational system is failing to prepare us for the challenges ahead. Most economics and professional training programs still focus on 20th century goals, such as short-term economic profit and building fossil fuel based infrastructures.
- Natural gas, oil and coal companies, and electric utilities are deploying legions of lobbyists to muddle climate and energy legislation and make consumers pay for polluters’ unwillingness to clean up their act.
- Inaction is not an option. Conservative legislators have been lying to the American public claiming that putting a price on carbon would cost $3,100 to every family per year. The number in the study they are citing is actually closer to $30 per family per year. Inaction on the other hand would end up costing trillions of dollars in severe weather damage, lost productivity and cause an economic collapse in most developing economies.
Climate Action Priorities
I. Cut global warming pollution and protect consumers
The best scientific estimates (compiled by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) say that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 80-95% by 2050 in order to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change. Anything below these targets is unacceptable as it would guarantee climate destabilization beyond our capacity to prevent catastrophic sea level rise, droughts and extreme weather. Setting targets is not enough though. The cap and trade bill needs to auction 100% of pollution permits, without using offsets, to guarantee that emissions are reduced and that consumers won’t be bearing the brunt of the costs. The failure of the European Union’s cap and trade bill is an example of what happens when these simple criteria aren’t met. Consumers’ energy bills spiked, corporations took in windfall profits, and barely a dent was made on overall emissions reduction.
II. Reduce energy bills through energy efficiency
California implemented strict regulations to use energy more efficiently after the first oil crisis in the late seventies. Since then, California’s overall electricity use remained constant while its economy soared. We need to learn from the leadership exhibited by the state and go even further. We need to implement a Federal Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS) to require utilities to reduce electricity demand by 30% by 2020. We also need to build upon the $5 billion provided in the Recovery Act for weatherization assistance in order to meet the dual objective of reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and help low-income families save up to $350 per year on energy bills.
III. Power our nation with clean, renewable energy
We have unparalleled renewable energy resources in the United States. Using already available technology we can harness the power of the wind, sun and heat from underground to produce much more than our current and projected energy use. We need to implement a national Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to mandate that 100% of the electricity produced in the United States comes from clean and renewable energy sources by 2020. We must help states with less available resources achieve this goal by investing in workforce training programs and modernizing the national electric grid to connect renewable energy rich areas to the rest of the country. 100% by 2020 is an extremely hard target to reach, but it reflects the urgency of the problem we face. The only way that we can achieve this is through a concerted effort between government, the private sector, and educational institutions working together to create millions of green jobs and training currently marginalized communities and formerly fossil-fuel industry workers.
IV. No support for dirty energy
The utility sector is desperately lobbying to maintain the status quo, whether by demanding free allocation of polluting permits or by demanding that false solutions such as ‘clean coal’, nuclear energy and waste-to-energy be classified as ‘renewable’. These forms of energy are intrinsically unjust to neighboring communities, unsustainable in the long run, dangerous in their extraction process, and less financially stable than forms of energy that are naturally available and limitless (i.e. renewables) such as solar, wind, geothermal and tidal energy. We need to repeal all subsidies and incentive programs for all fossil and nuclear forms of energy to free up public investments for renewable energy deployment and energy conservation programs. The transition to a 100% renewable economy will be hard enough without wasting our limited resources on expensive, dangerous, and unjust forms of energy.
Climate and energy policy is a central component of President Obama’s proposed budget and he urged Congress to include reconciliation instructions. Budget reconciliation is a process that limits the length of debate, and, more importantly, allows for a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority vote. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives and the Senate did not include reconciliation instructions in their budget resolution, making it much harder for us to get a bold, uncompromised energy and climate bill. A filibuster-breaking 60 votes will be needed in the Senate in order to get a climate bill passed, and, as it stands, we have:
- 30 Assumed YES votes – 9 Likely leaning YES – 20 On-the-Fence – 8 Likely leaning NO – 33 Assumed NO
The prospects of getting a climate change bill passed this year are entirely dependent on our ability to convince all ‘Likely yeses’, ‘Fence sitters’, and at least one ‘Likely no’ to recognize the importance and timeliness of taking action.
The expected vote count in the House presents a similarly bleak situation, but progressive champions Chairman Waxman (D-CA) of the Energy and Resources Committee and Chairman Markey (D-MA) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming released draft climate and energy legislation at the beginning of the month.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) is a good skeleton for what a climate bill should look like. It includes:
- A Renewable Portfolio Standard calling for utilities to produce 25% of its energy from renewable sources
- Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standards mandating utilities to reduce demand of electricity by 15% and Natural Gas by 10% by 2020
- A cap and trade program with the goal of cutting global warming emissions 20% below 2005 levels in 2020, 42% in 2030, and 83% in 2050
These three programs compose the bulk of the bill, but some of the side provisions are extremely important as well. There are some positive provisions such as upgrading the national transmissions grid to bring clean electricity to urban centers and worker transition programs to make sure that no-one is left behind in the efforts to clean up our economy. Unfortunately there are also allocations for dubious Carbon Capture and Sequestration programs and 2 billion tons of offsets which divert precious resources from more just and certifiable emissions reductions.
Campus Progress joined the Energy Action Coalition in demanding the following changes to the draft legislation:
- Auction 100% of pollution permits right away so consumers aren’t made to pay for polluter’s unwillingness to innovate
- Strengthen carbon caps by increasing targets (25-40% by 2020 and 80-95 by 2050 based on 1990 levels) and by eliminating the problematic and corrupt offsets provision
- Strip funding and support from dirty forms of energy such as coal (including Carbon Capture and Sequestration), nuclear and non-plant based biomass which don’t belong in a climate bill in the first place
- Distribute allocations equitably by investing in clean energy deployment, returning part of the revenue to ratepayers, and supporting both domestic and international adaptation programs.
You can stay up to date on the 2010 budget at Funding Our Future, Campus Progress’s blog on the budget and economic issues affecting young people.
1. Call your congressperson and tell them to strengthen the American Clean Energy and Security Act
2. Attend the Campus Progress National Conference to learn essential organizing skills, listen to inspiring leaders, and participate in the Progressive Lobby Day