Wednesday, September 3

Climate Change Measures To Boost Economy

A California study accounts the benefits to accrue as we start to invent solutions to the mother of all necessities.

A study quoted in the Sacramento Bee this morning showed that the improvements in fuel and energy efficiency and additional clean technology jobs needed to achieve required emissions reductions would result in a net household savings of up to $500 a year and a net $4 billion gain in the total annual output of goods and services in California.

So when you minus all the coal miners and plus all the solar roofers: you come to the apparently surprising news that a clean energy industrial revolution will improve your economy.

But surely: hands-on jobs like those of solar roofers cannot be outsourced or replaced. And mandated solar roofs? That's a lot of jobs. By definition, the zero carbon innovation economy will be an expanding one, throwing off new jobs and businesses as new problems and solutions surface to solve climate change.

By contrast, the extractive economy is a mature economy. 75,000 miners have lost their jobs in the last decade. Now in Wyoming, a mere 5,000 workers produce 40% of America's Coal.

The giant coal company Peabody employed fewer than 8,300 people making a quarter of our coal to earn $5 billion in 2007. By comparison, the 20 year old wind turbine company Vestas employed more than 13, 000 people, the year that it made $5 billion.

Now, from a strict economist's point of view, the coal company CEO is doing a better job, eking out the same $5 billion off fewer people. And that one CEO probably is doing fine. But looked at from a bigger picture point of view: which state would be better to live in, even do business in, the one with really only one customer, the CEO, or the one with 13,000 people with bucks in their pockets to buy your goods?

I would have thought that that was obvious simply by the disparity between the economies of the thriving Green States versus the Brown States. It is a choice between a Belgian economy and the Belgian Congo's:

"Now let's look at the countries that are heavily dependent on extractive industries. The first five out of the top six are uniformly crummy places to live: Mongolia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Serbia and Montenegro, and Australia. More Belgian Congo than Belgium."

Then there is the problem with a strict economist's accounting of goods and services. What is an emergency-room visit for pollution-related asthma? That's a service.

The expensive prescriptions her $8-an-hour mother can ill afford, but now must buy her weekly? That's a good.

Or is it? Are these really goods and services? By my accounting, these are environmental costs that we are all laboring under now. Our health insurance costs rise to help cover every kid raced into the emergency room with that asthma.

Because of the skewed accounting we currently use, I suspect that this California study actually greatly undercounts the actual huge economy-wide benefits that will accrue as we set about inventing solutions to the mother of all necessities.

Photo By Steve Jurvetson

Related stories:
While Markets Turn Red, The Future Looks Green
Sweden Exceeds Kyoto Targets; Economy Booms
Why Eco Businesses Should Move To Brown States