Transforming America into a country that runs on clean energy is one way experts hope to alleviate the devastating economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With unemployment soaring and oil prices in a free fall, it’s looking highly unlikely that the US will simply step back into “business as usual.” Even though the pandemic is still raging, policy experts, climate action advocates, and scientists have all started drawing up plans that could save Americans from both the ravages of climate change and the economic fallout of COVID-19.
“Right now is the ideal time to be investing in renewable energy that can produce millions of family-sustaining wage jobs across the United States,” says Mark Paul, a political economist at New College of Florida.
Paul is one of the co-authors of a $2 trillion “green stimulus” that aims to create millions of jobs by dramatically expanding renewable energy capacity and retooling the nation’s infrastructure for the transition away from fossil fuels. Smaller plans have also grown at state and local levels. A petition coming out of New York asks for $500 billion to help states with budget shortfalls and expand clean energy.
The basic idea is that federal spending on a cleaner future would put Americans back to work, shift the balance of power away from polluting industries with big lobbying budgets, and meet key deadlines for climate action that scientists say are necessary to limit the damage done by climate change.
Renewables like solar and wind create more jobs per unit of energy delivered than coal or natural gas, a 2010 study published in the journal Energy Policy found. While $1 million in stimulus spending on oil and natural gas generated roughly five jobs, the same amount would result in 13 to 14 jobs in wind and solar, a 2009 report found.
Those numbers were crunched as the policymakers tried to figure out how to rebound from a different economic crisis — the 2008 Great Recession. Paul says one lesson learned from the Great Recession is that it isn’t too early to start planning ahead. After all, the climate crisis is expected to take its own toll on the global economy. Weaning the planet off the fossil fuels that are heating it up could help nip that financial crisis in the bud.