How Capping Carbon Can Create Millions Of Jobs

Bill Scher

Last week I noted that “Capping Carbon Costs Nothing”, which is something we already knew but received renewed attention with the release of a new report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. As The New York Times summarized, while there is some upfront cost in retooling our energy production and infrastructure to create a low-carbon economy, “[w]hen the secondary benefits of greener policies — like lower fuel costs, fewer premature deaths from air pollution and reduced medical bills — are taken into account, the changes might wind up saving money.”

That is unquestionably good. As the report says, the likelihood of little to no to negative net economic costs, along with the range of health and environment benefits to be reaped, argues for governments across the globe to take action with or without an international agreement: “While some [actions] may have a small net cost considered in narrow economic terms … governments, cities and businesses would have strong reasons to implement them even without consideration of their climate change benefits.”

But even this report undersells the job-creating potential of transitioning to a clean-energy economy.

While the global commission report is restrained on the prospects for net job creation, a new report from the Political Economy Research Institute and the Center for American Progress proposes a bolder program that would create a “2.7 million net increase in jobs, even after estimated contractions in fossil fuel sectors” in the United States, on average every year for 20 years.

Why the different job projections? Because the PERI-CAP plan recommends bigger investments: $283 billion per year – most of which would be privately financed – in renewable energy, biofuels and energy efficiency as well as clean energy operations and maintenance (see page 215 ). PERI-CAP notes that most of the cost could be paid for with a carbon tax bringing in $200 billion a year.

In contrast, the global commission report envisions a program of investment in “low-carbon infrastructure” costing $270 billion a year, but that number encompasses all the nations of the world.

It’s important to know we can save the planet without much, if any, net cost. It’s also important to know we can save the planet and create millions of jobs, if we are willing to pay for it.

Get updates in your inbox