Republican House Takeover Bad News for Jobs, Unless You Pump Oil
After the Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections, Republican strategist Karl Rove told a crowd of oil producers that “climate is gone.” The Chicago Tribune reported that Republican leaders plan
to investigate the Environmental Protection Agency in a bid to block any regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
That's to be expected. The Republicans insist that any efforts to reduce GHG emissions would be bad for the economy. What they really mean is that any such measures would be bad for certain parts of the economy, specifically, coal, oil, and gas producers.
What Republicans never talk about is the enormous job-creating potential of renewable energy production and retrofitting of buildings to be more resource-efficient. Nor do they talk about the economic payback cities are hoping to get by reducing suburban sprawl and growing inward instead of outward.
Although the nation as a whole voted in a new Congress that doesn't understand the economic calculus of climate change, California voters went in the opposite direction.
On November 2, California voters rejected Proposition 23, a ballot measure to suspend California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32). Companies directly involved in oil production, refining, or retailing funded most of the cost of the campaign to pass the measure.
California voters also elected Jerry Brown to be our governor (again). He supports strong efforts to promote a new economy and curb GHG emissions, just like his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Brown soundly defeated Meg Whitman, who said she'd suspend AB 32 until the economy improves.
California voters rejected the argument that reducing GHG emissions is bad for our economy (as opposed to just affecting oil and coal company profits). They ignored the claim that countries that pursue alternative energy development have lost jobs as a result of their progressive energy and environmental policies.
With good reason. Having just visited the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China, I can tell you that dozens of nations and major cities are counting on just the opposite effect. As a group, they are investing billions of dollars in the proposition that green building, sustainable cities, and alternative energy generation will fuel the economic boom of this century.
All over the world, cities and nations are already seeing economic dividends from that investment. In fact, some of them are moving so fast, it makes the U.S. look like it's standing still.
For example, London is pushing to become the world’s “low carbon capital” in time for the Olympics in 2012. England will require all new residential buildings to be zero carbon by 2016, just six years from now. Portugal set a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 7.6 tons per capita by 2020, a level it claims is the lowest of any European country. And that's just the tip of the melting iceberg.
China has huge pollution issues from the growing use of cars and continues to rely heavily on coal. But it is moving rapidly to develop solar power and perfect zero carbon building construction. Other countries are not pursuing alternative energy and sustainable development just because they believe global warming is a threat, though that's part of it. They are doing it because they see money in it. They take a longer term view than U.S. policymakers. And they are not as indebted to the political support of oil, gas, and coal.
Other countries know that in today's service economy, alternative energy is a long-term jobs generator and that clean, green cities attract the kind of well-educated young people that in turn attract high-tech and service industries.
The truth is, many nations are way ahead of the U.S. in tapping the economic potential in these areas, and if Rove is right, the rest of the world will be thrilled to know it can widen the gap even more in the next two years.
Texas oil companies and West Virginia coal miners can breathe a sign of relief (if the air isn't too dirty), but for the rest of us, the election results are bad economic news. Californians will be among the few Americans to reap economic benefits from the new clean energy economy. When power in the House of Representatives moves to the Republicans, dirty energy interests will be emboldened to attack California’s precedents again and again.
Andre Shashaty is a writer, editor, and policy advocate with a focus on housing and urban issues. He is president of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in San Rafael, Calif., a nonprofit organization that does research and advocacy around climate change and the built environment.