Jonathan L. Gelbard, Ph.D., reports on triplepundit.com that, though we’re facing an unprecedented perfect storm of crises—the economy, climate change, and peak oil—it’s not yet time to despair.1 We’ve taken a good first step: putting the right guy in charge. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
The good news is that funding a green energy revolution will help solve all three of these inter-related crises. More jobs in the “green collar” sector will help the economy; clean energy will help alleviate climate change; and less reliance on fossil fuels will make the peak oil argument moot.
It’s time to get to work making sure that the solutions President Obama proposes during his first 100 Days and beyond approach the path to solving the financial crisis right, in a way that addresses our three most pressing – and intertwined – crises:
1. The Economy: our broken economy and financial system;
2. Peak Oil: our dependence on increasingly unpredictably-priced, unreliable, and polluting oil supplies (and fossil fuels in general) and the inefficient vehicles and buildings that they power; and
3. The Climate Crisis: the quietly – almost radioactively so – spreading catastrophe that is global heating, or ‘Atmosphere Cancer’ as marketing guru, Seth Godin, calls it. (’climate change’ and ‘global warming’ have proven to be tragically inadequate terms for conveying the civilization collapse-inducing potential of humans’ destabilization of the earth’s climate system, but that’s a topic for another post…)
The good news: the same technologies and green infrastructure projects that will create millions of jobs in key emerging 21st century industries will also free us from dependence on oil and help us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by the recommended level of 80% by 2050.
Who would have thought just 10 years ago that our next period of economic growth would not only thrive on a clean energy and energy efficiency revolution, but would depend on it? For those of us who’ve spent our lives working to advance what we now call “sustainability”, it’s our time. The next few months, if not years, are likely to give us quite the economic roller coaster ride, but let’s not lose sight of how we have the answers right in front of us – and it’s just a matter of executing on the policy end, and on the task of strategic deployment and proliferation of clean energy and energy efficient technologies. Our time has finally come to support President Elect Obama and prove to the world – and to our children and grandchildren who we are passing it on to – that “Yes We Can”!
The Massive Stimulus Potential of Efficient, Clean Technologies
As numerous reports and articles have made clear, the returns for America (and the world) on investment in a sustainable clean energy and efficiency revolution will be to cut our energy costs considerably, thus freeing up hundreds of billions of dollars for Americans – and citizens of the world – to spend on everything else, generating cost savings that reverberate far and wide throughout lives and businesses. At the same time, these solutions will slash our greenhouse gas emissions and boost our public health, national security, and quality of life. Consider the following very brief set of examples:
Savings on Gas Costs – Switching from a car that gets 20 mpg to one that gets 50 mpg will save the average American nearly $1,100/year in gas costs at $3/gallon (given the average distance Americans drive per year – about 12,000 miles; savings rise considerably as gas prices and miles driven go up). That savings is nearly two times the cash provided to us by our 2008 stimulus checks! Multiply that by the 112 million households in the U.S. alone, and that’s $123.2 billion/year that American households are now spending on gas that with a mandate for more efficient vehicles, they would have to spend on…everything else – electronics, clothing, travel, education, you name it. Or of course just to SAVE for themselves or their children.
Not to mention that at 20 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted per gallon of gasoline , these financial savings translate to 3.6 tons of CO2 emissions saved. Multiplied by 112 million households, that’s an annual reduction of approximately 358.4 million tons of CO2 emissions – about 5% of America’s total.
Savings On Home & Business Energy Costs – Throw in home energy efficiency, including such typical tips as purchasing EnergyStar appliances, using energy efficient light bulbs, and operating your home more efficiently by sealing leaks and turning down the heat and AC a bit, and savings jump another $500 to more than $3,000 per household per year (the final amount depends on the size and energy use of the home; numbers derived from Conservation Value Institute’s ‘GreenTracker’ sustainability savings calculator). Again, multiply that by 112 million households, and find that another $56 billion to $336 billion of Americans’ hard earned dollars are freed up from energy bills for us to spend widely, to save for our children and theirs, and to contribute to charitable organizations working to make our world better.
This is the green vision of a broad economic and social stimulus for America – and one that doesn’t just come and go like our $600 2008 stimulus checks. This is a stimulus that feeds back positively upon itself, providing returns for decades as our transportation, energy, and building technologies and infrastructure become more energy and cost efficient. Green IS the recession solution!
Of course, as a critical bonus, at an average of about 1.34 lbs of CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity and 11.7 lbs of CO2 emissions per Therm of natural gas, these cost savings on home and business energy use translate to hundreds of millions of tons of additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions per year – significantly further cutting humanity’s carbon footprint!
Savings on Health Care Costs & Related Pollution Impacts – A green economy will also generate direct and indirect savings on our skyrocketing health care costs, which have been increasingly weighing down consumer and business spending. Directly, Americans’ costs on pollution-induced health problems like asthma – estimated well into the $billions – will go down. Indirectly, companies that currently have to pay full wages to workers who are either home sick due to pollution-related illnesses, or who are not working at full capacity, will get more bang for their buck as clean technologies replace polluting ones.
How much of an impact will a cleaner, greener economy have on our public health? Consider the findings of a 2006 study that examined the health impacts of air pollution in California’s San Joaquin Valley alone. The researchers estimated that annually, air pollution causes some 23,000 asthma attacks, 3,000 lost work days, 188,400 days of reduced activity in adults, 260 hospital admissions, and 460 premature deaths among people age 30 and older; and for children: 3,230 cases of acute bronchitis, 17,000 days of respiratory problems, and 188,000 days of school absences! The study estimated the financial cost of these impacts to be $3 billion – a regional cost that grows to astronomical levels at national and global scales. Green technologies are clearly healthy for not only our environment and economy, but for ourselves!
Savings on Security Spending AND Greater Economic and National Security – Finally, our national security position will be greatly strengthened. Free from the pressure to make choices that defy American values just because we don’t want to risk angering our oil suppliers (many of which are governments that don’t like us very much), our ability to do what is right for America and the world will no longer be so tragically – and expensively – compromised as it is right now. Consider the security costs of our pursuit of oil in Iraq and Afghanistan, which for the Iraq War alone are estimated to have required enough of our precious tax dollars to shift the world to renewables! The financial and diplomatic benefits are truly exciting, and will almost certainly generate groundbreaking foreign policy breakthroughs in regions where diplomacy and human rights are currently compromised by petropolitics.
Better quality of life – Better quality of life, of course, is what this all translates to – by investing in a renewable energy and energy efficiency revolution that powers A New Green Economy.
1. I’ll let you know.