Robert Pollin Shows Us That “Greening The Global Economy” Is Doable

Bill Scher

Above: Economist and author Robert Pollin discusses his latest book, “Greening the Global Economy,” with Isaiah J. Poole while at a congressional briefing in Washington December 8.

The expected Paris climate agreement will be a landmark achievement, not just for the environment, but for peace. Never before has the entire world come together to save each other from harm.

But the fight to protect the climate will not be over. The pledges made by each country will not be enough on their own to sufficiently limit the rise in global temperatures. What is our next step?

Prof. Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, has laid out a road map in his new book “Greening The Global Economy.” He has done the math that not only puts hard numbers on what needs to be done, but also shows how saving the planet goes hand in hand with growing a global middle class.

Pollin calculates that the world needs to annually invest between 1.5 and 2 percent global GDP in renewable energy and energy efficiency to stabilize global temperatures, which amounts to $1.5 trillion. Worldwide, we currently spend about $450 billion, leaving us about $1 trillion, annually, in the hole.

But Pollin makes the case that ramping up that investment is money well spent. Investing 1.5 percent of GDP in America would create 1.5 million clean energy jobs, and a net increase of 650,000 after accounting for fossil fuel job losses. In China and India, countries that have been resistant to aggressive emissions cuts, the bang for the buck is far greater (mainly because of lower wages). China would see a net job increase of 6.4 million, India 5.7 million.

Pollin’s estimates are realistic. He doesn’t exaggerate and claim that the job gains would lead to a full employment economy on their own. (He explains that additional policies to create a full employment economy would help mitigate problems associated with job losses in the fossil fuel sector.) Still, he helpfully reminds “politicians” that they “would be very pleased to claim credit for job gains of this magnitude.”

Clean energy investment is not only good for economic growth, but Pollin also emphasizes that economic growth is essential for meeting our climate targets. Pushing back on the strain of environmentalists who treat growth as the enemy of the environment, Pollin describes a scenario in which global GDP contracts by 10 percent in 20 years – four times worse than the global recession following the 2008 market crash. In that case, carbon emissions would be cut by a mere 9 percent, whereas a clean energy-powered economic growth strategy would reach the needed goal of 40 percent.

We can’t curtail growth to survive. We have to grow smarter.

Another critical point Pollin makes is that we already have the wind, solar, geothermal and “clean” bio-energy technology to realize our clean energy goals and provide different mixes of energy sources for all regions of the globe. This is particularly relevant since much faith is being placed in Bill Gates’ $1 billion fund to develop new technologies. In an recent interview with (see above), Pollin notes that we “can’t wait around” for breakthroughs. The Gates fund is “fine” but “peanuts” compared to what’s needed. The “stress” should be placed on bigger investments in making current technology more accessible and affordable, and those investments will be “making money” in a few years.

The biggest takeaway from “Greening The Global Economy” is hope. By crunching the numbers and showing us the path to a clean energy-powered economy, we know what is possible and we can work toward achieving it.

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