Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan. As readers of this blog are already aware, the Clean Power Plan proposes carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., generating approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Some specifics are that under the Clean Power Plan, states must expand their energy sources and use solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, sustainably sourced biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydrology in order to decrease their carbon emissions.
Did you know that renewable energy technologies are characteristically more labor-intensive than intensely mechanized fossil fuel technologies? This means that the potential economic benefits may be substantial; not to mention the significant benefits for our climate and health.
The solar industry employed over 100,000 workers in jobs ranging from solar manufacturing and sales to installation according to the Solar Foundation in 2011. Solar jobs grew by 20% percent in 2013 and 2014 is expected to create 22,000 jobs. Furthermore, these statistics were reported before the EPA plan was released, which may further boost the renewable job sector.
Let’s look at wind energy. The amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines doubled from 35% in 2006 to 70% in 2011 with 560 factories directly employing 75,000 full-time employees.
The hydroelectric power industry also plays a role. Statistics show in 2009 it employed 250,000 people. As many as 700,000 jobs could be generated if the hydropower industry installs a new capacity of 23,000 – 60,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025. Rounding out our look at the renewable energy sector, the geothermal industry directly employed 5,200 people in 2010.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimated in 2009 that a national, renewable electricity standard attempting to cut 25% of carbon emissions by 2025 would generate 297,000 jobs, $263.4 billion in new capital investment, $13.5 billion in income to farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues. Remember, the EPA proposed reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. So the potential economic benefits may increase over the UCS’s estimates.
With these figures, we’re not even taking into account a complete picture of the potential economic benefits from expanded renewable energy sources. Think about how direct job creation leads to indirect job creation. For example, when you hire additional employees, you may very well need a larger Human Resources staff.
All of this comes at a time when our country could deeply benefit from economic stimulation. The U.S. economy is still anemic, with unemployment rates remaining high, and a disturbing national debt that’s expected to reach $20 trillion by 2020. We must embrace win-win scenarios such as these that combine healing our ailing planet with economic recovery. It’s past time to forge the path to a low-carbon future.
Americans eat a lot of sugar. According to a 2012 infographic from www.OnlineNursingPrograms.com, we consume about 130 pounds of sugar each year. And when I say sugar, I don’t just mean sugar from sugar cane. I am referring to corn syrup, which is used to sweeten our favorite soft drinks, of which the average American drinks 53 gallons per year. That sounds bad, and it is, but brain scans show that sugar is addictive as cocaine. Well, our national addiction is in major trouble from climate change.
Corn is the biggest agricultural crop in the U.S. It’s a $65-billion-a-year industry and global warming is putting it at a significant risk. A report released this week by Ceres, a coalition of investor and environmental groups, says that corn is at risk because its water demands are growing at a time when the threat of drought is increasing. Ceres said corn production particularly is in danger due to its tapping stressed aquifers as a water source. A couple that are especially relied upon are the High Plains aquifer, which covers eight Great Plains states, and the Central Valley aquifer in California.
Report author Brooke Barton, Water Program Director at Ceres, says, “Escalating corn production for our food, livestock and energy industries has put the corn sector on an unsustainable path.” The Midwest drought of 2012 pushed corn prices to record-level highs of $8 per bushel and according to the report are “a taste of what is predicted to become the new normal in many parts of the Corn Belt thanks to climate change.”
Rising corn prices also impact more than just the food industry. The transportation industry may also take a hit as corn production is affected by climate change. The crop is used to make ethanol, which is a fuel additive, and accounts for roughly 10% of the country’s fuel.
However, the largest use of corn in the U.S. is still for human consumption one way or another. Even if we’re not directly drinking it in soft drinks, it is still used a livestock feed. Soda manufacturers, such as leading beverage company Coca-Cola Co., could make a significant difference in sustainable corn production. Ceres says they could seek out suppliers of their agricultural ingredients who use less water and fertilizers.
Although, the good news to our waistlines is that U.S. consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been declining for a decade. Maybe we are starting to wean ourselves off of our sugar addiction after all. Either way, it is part of a group of addictions that our country needs to overcome. Using less is the best way to control carbon emissions.
Ever come down with Lyme disease? Do you suffer from asthma? Think climate change might have something to do with it? Before you write off this thought as crazy consider the numbers.
The World Health Organization estimates that a minimum of 140,000 people currently die each year around the globe from the effects of climate change. That number does not include the millions more who are made ill from diseases such as asthma, heatstroke or malaria nor does it account for those that are otherwise physically harmed, for example from extreme weather events.
As if these numbers aren’t bad enough, Americans are largely unaware of the impact climate change is already having on their health. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication conducted a nationwide survey this spring asking respondents to give, “their best estimates of the impacts of global warming on human health worldwide – currently and 50 years from now. The largest proportion of respondents (38% to 42%) simply said, ‘I don’t know.’ The next largest proportion (27% to 39%) said either ‘no one’ or ‘hundreds’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming each year, either now or 50 years from now.”
“Only 18% to 32% of Americans said, correctly, that each year either ‘thousands’ or ‘millions’ of people worldwide will die, be made ill or injured by global warming, either now or 50 years from now.”
One look at the conclusion of the health chapter of the recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment demonstrates that hundreds of climate experts see the danger from the global warming review they conducted over the past four years, “Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including impacts from increased extreme weather events, wildfire, decreased air quality, threats to mental health, and illnesses transmitted by food, water, and disease-carriers such as mosquitoes and ticks. Some of these health impacts are already underway in the United States.”
We need to begin making the realization that global warming is here, it’s already killing some of us and there is no time to lose in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Americans are especially prone to think that technology will save us. Perhaps, but perhaps not. A new study argues that climate engineering may not be the answer to averting a climate change catastrophe. You know what will definitely help? Reducing what you can and offsetting the rest. Let’s get to it posthaste.
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