Climate action and economic prosperity are often put at odds. Shortly after the Green New Deal resolution was introduced to Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward J. Markey, the narrative rapidly shifted away from discussing the details of the first proposed solution to climate change on the scale of the crisis, to discussing the economic feasibility of implementing such a plan.
In reality, the Green New Deal addresses both concerns—addressing the climate crisis will grow our economy in addition to preventing immense economic losses that would result from inaction.
When asking how much it would cost to address the climate emergency, the next question must be what is the cost of doing nothing? Aside from the immeasurable human suffering and invaluable human lives lost to the impacts of climate change, annual losses of hundreds of billions of dollars in some U.S. economic sectors are projected by the end of the century. To put this into perspective, the United States could experience yearly losses greater than the current GDP of many U.S. states.
Still, the impact of climate action on our economy and jobs is a concern to many. And these questions are important ones. Addressing the climate emergency, namely achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, requires large changes in almost all sectors of our economy. Decarbonizing our economy will mean job losses in some sectors, like natural gas and coal, and gains in others, renewable energy and green construction.
But do these jobs exist and do they pay well? One of the key first steps in building a sustainable economy is the clean energy transition, i.e. obtaining our energy from non-fossil fuel sources. This transition has never been more feasible. In many regions of the U.S., solar and wind are beating natural gas and becoming the cheapest electricity generation technologies. E2’s 2018 Clean Jobs America report found that clean jobs in the U.S. already outnumbered fossil fuel jobs 3-to-1. And just in solar, jobs have increased by 167% over the last decade.
Not only are clean jobs thriving, but their wages are comparable—the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the mean hourly wage for the fossil fuel electric power generation sector is $41 compared to $43 for solar and $39 for wind. But these numbers are just averages, and when you look closer there is a shift in availability and wages of the most common jobs. Power plant operators receiving $40 an hour will be far and few compared to solar installers and wind technicians, currently receiving $21 and $28 an hour respectively. This is a big difference, and one that should not be ignored as the policy details of the Green New Deal are written.
Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates a net 18 million jobs will be created by a clean energy transition that meets the Paris Agreement’s 2°C goal. A UMass Amherst study found that every $1 million dollars shifted from fossil fuels to clean energy results in a net increase of five jobs. And these are just clean energy jobs. Green jobs expand across more sectors than just energy, including zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure, building retrofits, agriculture, forestry, and also care work including health care workers and teachers.
Although there will be a net increase in jobs, this will not come without losses—the International Labour Organization predicts 6 million lost jobs from a clean energy transition. This is why the Green New Deal’s just transition is crucial. A just transition means ensuring that displaced workers are protected with income support and a federal jobs guarantee—providing the necessary education, experience, and job training to perform low-carbon work with high wages in their communities. It’s great that addressing the climate crisis and ensuring a livable future means creating new jobs, however having these jobs in the right places is just as important as the total number of jobs created.
Green jobs must be available in communities where fracking or coal industries are the main employer. These jobs should also be available to frontline and vulnerable communities, those that will be disproportionately affected by climate change. The Green New Deal aims to protect these communities, which include “indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.” Investing in these communities is not only just, but pivotal for the widespread support necessary to adopt the Green New Deal’s plan for a livable future.
The Green New Deal is the solution to the jobs issue. We can mitigate and adapt to climate change, create millions of good jobs, and ensure no one is left behind.