Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Green Stimulus

By Kathleen Rogers

A massive stimulus package of nearly $600 billion holds promise for the economy, and could mean more federal spending on infrastructure and energy efficiency projects. An estimated $400 billion in that bill will repair lots of bridges and roads, but what will they all lead to? Nothing -- unless we first start building bridges and roads between our economic, climate, and education concerns, and start appreciating the way they’re all connected.

New policy and stimulus needs to take into account that we’re not just trying to save our economy with roads, bridges, and buildings: We’re trying to save ourselves.

Few other national topics are as timely as a discussion of how to build a new green economy nationwide. During his campaign Obama promised to create 5 million green jobs. It is this way of thinking that should shape our country’s future.

One way we can stimulate the economy while going green is to create new, personal carbon savings accounts. These would be tax-free, interest-bearing green energy savings accounts that could be leveraged to help weatherize or green-up one’s home or sold to companies that need carbon credits. It would encourage energy efficiency while allowing a personal stake in emissions reductions.

At a time when we are poised to make our greatest infrastructure investment since the Great Depression, we need to make sure we do it right. Congress seems focused on shovel-ready jobs to its own detriment. We need to ensure this bailout is green, that the bridges and roads lead us to the future -- instead of another dead-end.

Putting together a new green energy program for the U.S. and other countries will require thousands of green jobs in solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy.

One plan is based on the fact that investing in energy efficient buildings would go a long way to create jobs and help the economy. The so-called Architecture 2030 plan recommends an investment of $171.72 billion over two years combining a housing mortgage buy-down and an accelerated-depreciation program for commercial buildings with energy efficiency. This plan could create over 3 million jobs in the building sector and over 4 million indirect jobs plus an additional 350,000 jobs from consumer spending.

The retrofitting and construction of green schools -- the largest construction sector in the United States -- will do the same. Between 2006 and 2008, we spent $80 billion on school construction. If we build those buildings green, they cost less than 2 percent more to construct; however, they pay for themselves in a few years. Consequently, municipalities with major school systems are increasingly looking at “green building” and renovation as they work to update school facilities and save the district money in utility bills. A green school can save a school enough money to hire two additional teachers -- all while preventing 585,000 lbs of CO2 from hitting the atmosphere.

Which, at the end of the day, helps solve a bigger problem: The economy is in a crisis, but the impacts of climate change are far greater in the long run. Fortunately though, there’s no need to sacrifice one for the other.

Green jobs are in danger of disappearing from the stimulus package, to be replaced with shovel-ready jobs, such as President-elect Obama’s recently announced plans to create thousands of jobs by “weatherizing” houses. While weatherizing houses is important, it is a short-term project for employment. It is not the same as creating lasting high-tech work or building infrastructure. Green jobs, however, are solid, necessary jobs which have a long-term future. What we need now is a firm commitment to include in the stimulus package funds for “green” infrastructure and jobs -- the real way to revitalize the economy and look toward the future.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has touted other projects like investments in new energy technologies and energy-efficient buildings. We need to hold her and the rest of the Congressional leadership to those promises, demanding that they take bold measures to resolve the economic crisis holistically -- by taking into account the challenges of the climate crisis, the health of our children, and the needs of our workforce, which is waiting for green American jobs that can’t be exported.

Our government must begin the shift towards a global economy driven by massive job creation from the growth of green technology, construction, transportation, and renewable energy. While the road to a green economy might be long, we need to use this opportunity to build it.
Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08

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