Addressing Climate Change: It's the Economy, Stupid

Perhaps it takes a newspaper outside our tempest-in-a-teapot country to point out the obvious to us: we won't get any climate or energy legislation passed if we don't elect people who believe it's a problem. And there are plenty of unbelieving candidates out there right now, the London Guardian reported, according to a new report released by ThinkProgress, a project of the Center for American Progress. Originally, the study noted that almost all Republican Senate candidates did not believe in climate change or didn't think it was a problem. But that was before Delaware Senate candidate Mike Castle was defeated by a Tea Partyer in a recent Republican primary. Now, none of them do. And the fossil fuel industry is influencing this election with its moneypot to ensure that none of these are even tempted to enact any legislation that reduces fossil fuel use.

The implications are staggering for our economy, given the predictions of big gains by Republicans this November. Why? New York Times columnist Tom Friedman did a great job of laying it all out. China's leaders, who are mostly trained engineers and scientists, recognize not just the climate but health savings of reducing fossil fuel use. Indeed, the annual health savings from fossil fuel pollution alone for the European Union was recently estimated at $43 billion if it simply increased its 2021 emissions reduction target by 10%, and it would be considerably more if the health problems from climate change -- spread of infectious disease, floods, storms, etc -- were included. Imagine what the health savings would be for China, which suffers from rampant pollution, much of it caused by fossil fuel burning. Apparently, some Chinese leaders do. Basically, the best policy for addressing climate change is increasing energy efficiency and switching to clean energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, we're doing relatively little of either, and it shows on the international chess board, where China is charging full steam ahead on conserving energy and starting to dominate the global clean energy manufacturing market. And other countries are scampering behind them.

We're being outcompeted, big time. China has a million people employed in the clean energy manufacturing sector alone, with a government that supports companies with land grants and excellent loans. China also insists on making local governments and the top polluters accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as the country continues its economic growth sprint. Investment capital is flowing out of the US and in to China, as businessmen see the Chinese government rev the clean energy economic engine there. All this is being noticed by US employers and employees alike. A broad US coalition of 27 businesses, thinktanks, worker unions, and citizen organizations recently called on the federal government to pass a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), which sets a minimum percentage of electricity generated from clean energy that power utilities must buy. Without it, our clean energy sector is shrinking, as China's grows. So are our future opportunities for jobs and economic growth. How many jobs? For Indiana alone, where unemployment hovers around 10%, clean energy policies could have created over 100,000 jobs. The Senate has responded with a proposal to create a mere 15% RES by 2021.

What to do? As our free online book Cool the Earth, Save the Economy notes, vote for candidates who 1) recognize the need to switch from fossil fuels to clean energy and increased energy efficiency, and 2) who will create meaningful legislation to do so. The US military is already starting the switch to clean energy, recognizing that it saves money, energy, and, most importantly, human lives. That's why Operation Free exists, a veterans organization that supports increasing our energy independence by increasing our clean energy production with a comprehensive climate bill. As former US Colonel Dan Nolan says, "This isn't a Democrat issue. It's not a Republican issue. It's an American issue and we want to take a stand."

So, if candidates don't stand up for this American issue, then don't vote them in -- because it's not just our health, our national security, or the devastating climatic consequences -- it's the economy, stupid. It's a message worth spreading to all independent American voters.