Shorter CBO, Media: 'We Need Science Classes'
October 16, 2009 - 3:55am ET
It's remarkable how often economists ignore physical reality. Whether they're suggesting that economies can act as perpetual motion machines or suggesting that resource availability is meaningless to economic growth, I'm always prompted to think they should make science classes a mandatory part of the economics curriculum.
This week is no different, as the Congressional Budget Office director, Doug Elmendorf, testified that the US economy would barely notice changing environmental conditions such that we should be more worried about potential economic damages and job losses caused by climate mitigation.
The already desertifying American Southwest has cost the agricultural sector billions of dollars every year, just in California, and wildfires are expected to increase as a result. Increased floods in the Midwest have cost farmers and municipalities dearly, as well as costing the federal government aid dollars sent to clean up disaster areas. Those are just two projected impacts of climate disruption, drought and flooding, that have been happening at a minor scale compared with what will occur during projected changes.
In fact, the Midwest is also expected to get heat waves within our lifetimes that would prevent corn crops from setting seed. Does Elmendorf live in a cave that this prospect means nothing to him?
Elmendorf really doesn't see the US economy being much affected by such events increasing in magnitude, spread across the entire globe? The killer heat waves, coastal inundation, environmental refugees, reduced water supplies, none of that will put a dent in the smoothly purring economic engine we've got going here?
Ignored by the media headlines reporting Elmendorf's testimony, (and in fairness to Elmendorf, not entirely in context) is that the shift away from fossil industry jobs to clean energy jobs will result in a net gain of jobs. Also ignored is that the CBO scoring methods count energy efficiency promotion [and puppies!] as a cost without any economic benefit, in spite of the fact that it would save industry and consumers billions of dollars while lowering emissions dramatically.
And let's get back to that jobs issue. An analysis by Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council indicated that an emissions reduction target of 50% below 1990 emissions by 2050 would lead to a global net gain of energy sector jobs by 2030. And that's in comparison to a baseline, status quo scenario that has the global ener gy sector losing jobs, especially in nuclear and coal.
That's right. If we do nothing, nuclear and coal industry jobs will be lost anyway, and there won't be enough clean energy sector and efficiency employment to make up the difference.
Consider that per MegaWatt (MW) of capacity, solar creates 15-30 jobs and nuclear, 0.4-0.9 jobs. Bringing up the rear, climate-busting coal creates around 0.18 jobs per MW.
Adding in that nuclear energy is ridiculously expensive and that it would be a decade before we saw any new capacity, its opportunity costs are too high to compare favorably with solar power. Even if you solved its huge water needs and the waste disposal problems. Those are big 'ifs'.
Looking at wind power, the European Wind Energy Association estimates that an installed MW creates around 0.4 jobs, so it does as well as nuclear power once it's up and running. But it's created good manufacturing jobs in recent years, and has a construction employment rate of 2.57 jobs/MW [pdf]. Even in industry-devastated Michigan, a 10 percent state renewable electricity standard is bringing new wind turbine manufacturing jobs, which also highlights the fact that every state stands to gain jobs [pdf] from investment in clean energy and renewables.
Further, clean energy jobs pay well without requiring a college degree. Considering the often ruinous expenses of getting a degree these days (trust me) it's important that living wages be available without taking on that expense.
To protect existing fossil energy industries is to protect industries that are destroying our home and that are already losing jobs. A failure to invest in clean energy is a failure to protect our future interests in the necessities of life and dignified employment. It's also a failure to invest in a growth industry, one that created jobs faster than the rest of the economy even in the face of limited federal attention and huge subsidies for its competition.
If the CBO and the media are incapable of looking at the facts and recognizing the truth of the situation, they need to go back to school.
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