The green economy offers a powerful solution to both a warming planet and economic volatility. There are a host of political and economic crises in the world today. The Eurozone crisis is expected to be followed by a European recession. In China we are seeing strong evidence of a slowdown and many are calling for major economic reforms. Finally, the hope and promise of the "Arab Spring' has given way to a winter of discontent, as the Arab world suffers due to a weak economy and high unemployment.
Amidst all this economic uncertainty, global warming continues unabated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said all 11 years of the 21st century rank among the 13 warmest. NASA noted 9 of the top 10 warmest years in its record have occurred since 2000. The La Nina effect was the warmest on record in 2011, according to data from NOAA and NASA. The increasing probability of massive flooding caused by melting Greenland and Antarctic icecaps are creating real concerns about the future of the planet.
The string of warm years in the last decade is linked to rapidly increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases. In a press release, NASA wrote “Higher temperatures today are largely sustained by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide.” As the world's economies get stronger, energy demands will keep increasing and carbon emissions will keep rising.
As reported in a Green Energy Intelligence Report, it is predicted that by 2030, U.S. energy related CO2 emissions will amount to 6.9 billion metric tons (“MT”) under a “business-as-usual” scenario. Worldwide, energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to increase from 28.1 billion MT in 2005 to 42.3 billion MT in 2030. Together with non-energy related CO2 eq emissions (deforestation, industrial production processes, etc.), total CO2 eq emissions are projected to reach 62 giga (billion) tons (“Gt”) by 2030 (McKinsey June 2008).
The IEA’s chief economist has said that governments only have five years to avoid more than 2°C of global mean temperature rise. Extreme weather events add to the data and send an easy to read message that the time has arrived for a new economic framework. According to NOAA, there were 10 massive weather disasters in the U.S. last year, each exceeding a billion dollars. The unprecedented weather extremes include the following estimates of death and damage:
- Hurricane Irene: 50 deaths and $7 billion
- Upper Midwest flooding along the Missouri River: $2 billion
- Mississippi River flooding in spring and summer: $4 billion
- Drought and heat waves in Texas and Oklahoma: $5 billion
- Tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast in May: 177 deaths and $7 billion
- Tornadoes in the Ohio Valley and Southeast in April: 32 deaths and $9 billion
- Tornadoes in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in April: $2 billion
- Tornadoes in the Northeast and Midwest April 8-11: $2.2 billion
- Tornadoes in central and southern states April 4-5: $2.3 billion
- Blizzard in January from Chicago to the Northeast: 36 deaths and $2 billion
The costs of extreme weather are astronomical, and it is predicted they will get much worse if we do not address the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that cause climate change. We need a framework to address both the economic and environmental ills that the world is facing. We also need a means of increasing our energy supply without increasing our greenhouse gas emissions. The Green Economy offers the solutions we so desperately need.
According to a July, 2011 report from the Brookings Institution, 2.7 million Americans work at green jobs – more than work in the fossil fuel industry. The US Conference of Mayors estimates that number will almost triple by 2040.
The green jobs study by the Brookings Institute suggests the U.S. should put primary emphasis on new, technology-intensive, energy-related sectors. The study by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program is called “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment” The chief conclusion they came to is that the driving force behind jobs and the growth of the U.S. clean economy over the last decade has been emerging energy technologies. This is a conclusion echoed in Google’s energy innovation report.
Green jobs are also quality jobs with median wages 13 percent higher than the average. Investment in clean energy projects yields more than three times as many jobs as investing in fossil fuels. Although the green economy is producing results now, the growth potential is staggering.
The failure of the US Congress to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation has slowed the growth of the green economy, but it is not too late. A good example of what can be done even in the absence of federal government legislation comes from a Los Angeles cleantech business incubator (LACI). The LACI approach identifies local talent, nurtures it, and helps it get to market, resulting in more jobs and a bigger green economy in Los Angeles and beyond.
A UNEP study reveals that investing in the green economy will spur growth. Contrary to conservative belief, the greening of economies is not generally a drag on growth but rather a new engine of growth and a net generator of decent jobs. The Green Economy Report is compiled by UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative. The report, called Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication, recommends spending $1.3 trillion a year on the green economy.
Pavan Sukhdev, head of UNEP's Green Economy Initiative said, "Governments have a central role in changing laws and policies, and in investing public money in public wealth to make the transition possible. By doing so, they can also unleash the trillions of dollars of private capital in favour of a green economy,"
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
- A Primer on the U.S. Clean Energy Economy: What It Is, Why It Matters (insideclimatenews.org)
- Green Jobs Much Less Impacted by Recession in California (cleantechnica.com)
- States Need to Develop Entire Clean Energy Economy, Report Finds (cleantechnica.com)
Image credit: Everything's Cool