Climate Solutions Delivered Jobs and Votes

…and they show a way forward

My colleague Joe blogged last week on three big reasons why climate will move to the top of the agenda as we close out the year and move into the next Congress.  His reasons show how naysaying and looking backwards is proving costly and damaging both for communities and at the ballot box:

  1. Climate change impacts are costing the Federal Government  too much money (and people too much hardship)
  2. Big Oil and King Coal’s money play was a costly failure
  3. Poll after poll  shows the public increasingly wants action on climate change (even before Sandy…)

I’d add a fourth reason which shows that when America moves forcefully to act on climate change  it works:

Workers build the more efficient next generation Jeep Grand Cherokee at Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant. Photo:

4. Major U.S.  actions to address climate change delivered big on jobs in communities across the country and big on votes on election day

Over the past two years, while talking about climate was seen as controversial, the administration, U.S. companies and American workers nonetheless took major action to cut the carbon pollution that causes climate change—most notably a huge transformation of our auto sector to build far more efficient and less carbon-polluting cars and trucks, as well as major new investments in clean electric power.

These clean energy and advanced vehicle policies and investments were also attacked throughout the campaign—and the success of the auto recovery in particular became a central issue in the election. But when the votes were tallied Tuesday, the verdict was clear: support for the real jobs benefits of the auto industry revival had been pivotal in Ohio and Michigan, and likely influential in other states. Last minute misinformation on Jeep backfired in states that had seen billions in investment and tens of thousands jobs built in the last two years.  And auto wasn’t alone.  Articles last week argued that attacks on the wind energy production tax credit (PTC) may have affected the outcome in Iowa, where a boom in large scale wind energy generation and wind energy manufacturing is also driving economic growth.

When push came to shove (and there was alot of pushing and shoving) voters in swing states across the country stood up for the lasting jobs they could see coming back in their own neighborhoods and the clear evidence that America can innovate and lead in a 21st Century economy.

As I’ve blogged before, this is what action on climate change looks like in real life.  New jobs and great cars from a resurgent and globally competitive auto industry prove handily that American companies, workers, and communities have what it takes to meet this challenge and rebuild our economy at the same time.

Even better, looking forward, the auto and election results also suggest there is economic and political momentum behind a strategy that would rebuild the nation’s economy and rebuild communities from threats like Sandy through policies that drive investment in the energy and infrastructure of the future.

After decades of crisis in the auto industry, the current revival results from a combination of:

  • Major public and private reinvestment in manufacturing the most advanced vehicle technology in America, and;
  • Strong fuel-economy and greenhouse-gas regulations that ensured the industry would not waste that investment rebuilding for the past, but innovate and invest for the future and for global markets.  (To see how these policies worked together to build jobs go here, here or here or hear directly from workers herehere or here.)

The climate benefits of these new efficient cars are no small potatoes—the industry will cut the carbon pollution from its new cars in half by 2025, and cut total U.S. carbon emissions by nearly 10 percent. And those pollution savings come by way of using much, much less fuel which means big savings for consumers and big increases in energy security. And it is this win-win-win on jobs, family pocketbooks, and security that works so powerfully for the economy and translates into votes.

Every industry is different, but it is a mistake to see the auto industry story as unique.  Instead it should be seen as a powerful case study—relevant in many particulars to the building, transportation infrastructure, and utility sectors, just to name a few.  It urges the following:

  • Effective climate/ energy/ efficiency standards are essential to make innovation the norm, not the exception.  They ensure a broad domestic market for innovation, and relevance in global ones.
  • Reinvestment in American skills, manufacturing and infrastructure is critical to grow jobs at home, to provide positive transition opportunities, and is also essential to compete globally
  • Go big and concrete, so that at the end of the day we can all point to new clean and efficient products and infrastructure that deliver real quality of life and economic benefits to us every day. And make those actions sufficient to head off  the looming resource and climate crisis facing our children and  already lapping at our doors.

Over the past three years, amidst widespread acrimony, climate naysaying, and government bashing, the public and private sectors nonetheless worked together to revitalize a key sector of the economy, bring back hundreds of thousands of jobs, adopt state-of-the-art clean energy, transportation and efficiency technology, and take the biggest steps we’ve ever taken to cut carbon pollution and reduce our oil dependence.

Lets keep up the good work, keep acting on climate change,  and maybe go a little lighter on all that talk radio.