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Help Turn Copenhagen Into Hopenhagen

Pointing the country toward a clean energy future is going to be a big job, requiring the skills of all of us -- carpenters, metal fabricators, tool and dye makers, scientists, truck drivers, software designers, engineers and others.
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Voices From Hopenhagen

I have been working to solve global warming for over a decade, and the news I hear from climate scientists has grown increasingly sober and grim. Yet I remain hopeful.

I work with people every day--in business, in science, in government--who are deeply committed to solving this crisis. Together, we grasp the urgent need to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, but we also sense the enormous opportunities that will unfold if we commit to building a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

This is the message my colleagues and I will bring to the international climate talks in Copenhagen. These talks remain critically important, even as Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen has proposed the “one agreement, two steps” approach, which will extend the release of the final, legally binding agreement by a few months.

This approach gives countries a chance to solidify their individual commitments to reduce global warming pollution. This in turn could help push the U.S. Senate to pass its climate law, because if developing nations like China and India announce their pledges for reductions, it sends a clear signal that the United States will not be acting alone.

The sooner the United States and all the nations take action, the sooner we can unleash the opportunities that come with clean energy.

I have been traveling the country lately to talk about my new book, Clean Energy Common Sense, an accessible, concise read--something you could finish on a plane ride or during your commute--about the problem of climate change and how we can solve it.

When I met with reporters in Washington, I got asked a lot of questions about political sparring in the Senate and Copenhagen. But since I left the Beltway behind, the questions have changed. Most people want to know about one thing: jobs, jobs, and jobs.

And here is the side of the climate story that often goes untold: the economic growth side.

Pointing the country toward a clean energy future is going to be a big job. It will require the skills of all of us -- carpenters, metal fabricators, tool and dye makers, scientists, truck drivers, software designers, computer engineers and an array of others. People who work with their hands and their minds.

Combined with the economic stimulus package, the clean energy legislation now before the Senate would create 1.7 million such jobs, according to a 2009 study by the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts.

We’re talking here about many hundreds of thousands of jobs, spread across all 50 states. According to the UMass study, Ohio alone could produce almost 70,000 jobs--opportunities for steelworkers, coil winders, and bearing makers who produce components to build wind turbines, electricians who install solar panels, and construction workers who retrofit buildings to cut energy use.

Those estimates, by the way, are based on $150 billion of investments in clean and sustainable energy use. A July report by McKinsey & Co., an international economic consulting firm, showed the country could profitably invest more than $500 billion in energy efficiency upgrades over the coming decade, and get more than $2 in energy savings for every dollar spent.

The economic and job-creation benefits of efficiency have prompted the Obama administration to consider a “cash for caulkers” stimulus plan modeled on the highly successful “cash for clunkers” program. The plan would put construction workers, who have been hit hard by the housing crisis, back to work weatherizing homes.

This is the kind of job growth our nation needs right now. Yet in order to jumpstart it, we need to put policies in place that limit global warming pollution and promote low-carbon technologies.

We need to secure those policies here at home; we need to secure them in Copenhagen. And we need to do it now. Never before have the stakes on this issue been higher. Never before has there been more momentum for change.

Now is the time for citizens to weigh in. Now is the time for people to speak up and tell our leaders that yes, we want to solve global warming. We want to create green jobs, reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels, and produce the next generation of clean energy technologies.

The number of voices bringing this message to Washington and Copenhagen is what keeps me hopeful. I encourage you to join the chorus.

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