December 11, 2009

Clean Energy Jobs in a Global Marketplace

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke (Bio)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke at COP-15This week in Copenhagen, we’ve heard scientists describe the grave dangers in store for the world’s environment and its people if we do not move swiftly to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

On this basis alone, the world has a moral obligation to act.

But as countries confront this climate challenge, they are also facing the equally urgent task of reviving their economies and putting people back to work.

And if the American people take one message away from this climate conference, I hope it is this:

Many of the long-term solutions to our climate problem and our jobs problem are exactly the same.

The development of the clean energy and energy efficiency technologies that we need to curb greenhouse gas emissions could spur one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.

And it could put millions of people to work in high-skill high-wage jobs.

This year – thanks in large part to the $80 billion worth of clean energy investments in President Obama's Recovery Act – we’ve already gotten a glimpse of how clean energy can jumpstart our economy. 

Go to places like Northeast Building Products in Philadelphia, which has hired almost 100 new people to build windows for homeowners taking advantage of new energy efficiency tax credits…

…Or visit eTec in Phoenix, where you’ll see that company adding over 700 new workers to build electric car charging stations funded by Recovery Act grants…

…And you’ll begin to see the potential.  But this is just the beginning. 

To stave off the worst effects of climate change, we’re going to need a lot more than an electric car here and a wind farm there.

In the years ahead, we need to rebuild and reinvent virtually every industrial activity; from power generation and transportation to manufacturing and construction, to run efficiently and economically in a carbon constrained world.

The number of jobs this type of effort can create is astounding.

But it will not happen on its own.

Over the last century, a slew of government subsidies and incentives have actively encouraged the increased production and consumption of polluting fossil fuels.  Today, in ways large and small, we continue to reward the same carbon-intensive behaviors we are seeking to change.

That is precisely why the potential of clean energy has remained a mirage for well over three decades.

And that is precisely what President Obama is seeking to change.

The key feature of the energy bill passed by the House of Representatives this summer and supported by the president, is a market-based cap on carbon pollution that will send a surefire market signal to every entrepreneur and business in America that it’s safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy.

If America does not pass a comprehensive energy bill, it is a virtual certainty that we will

  1. become more dependent on foreign oil
  2. fall behind in the race to create clean energy businesses and jobs and;
  3. fail to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions

We needn’t go down that road.  America has the ability and the obligation to preserve our planet and create good new jobs.
I hope we seize the opportunity.

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