Clean Energy Can Get Our Economy Humming Again

The investments we make to recover from the current public health crisis should set us up to be better prepared to weather the next.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado
Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

The investments we make to recover from the current public health crisis should set us up to be better prepared to weather the next.

Our nation is in crisis. We are grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, an epidemic of racial violence against Black Americans, record unemployment, and a global climate crisis—all at once.

We need our leaders to embrace solutions that rise to the challenges of the time. That includes ensuring the next round of economic relief from our representatives in Congress will not double down on the business as usual that got us here, but instead invest in a better future. 

To date, the House has taken unprecedented action to provide urgent help to those who need it most. The latest stimulus package calls for $3 trillion in aid to help our frontline medical heroes, people who’ve lost paychecks and health care coverage at the worst possible time, small businesses fighting to survive, and states struggling to protect public safety and health. And it just passed a historic infrastructure bill that includes crucial support for clean energy. Now we’re counting on the Senate to put the national interest ahead of partisanship and include that support in any upcoming economic aid measure.

But we cannot stop there. It’s time to start looking beyond immediate relief and begin shaping the kind of longer-term public investment we’ll need to get our economy humming again and our country back on its feet. It’s time to invest in the kind of world we want to live in on the other side of this pandemic.

Nothing holds more potential to do both than clean energy. A recovery package centered on boosting the American clean energy economy would help the nation accomplish three overarching goals:

First, it would create jobs in every community, positioning us for lasting growth and broad-based prosperity.

Second, it would embody lessons learned from this costly pandemic about the importance of following science to prevent the next crisis from turning into calamity.

Finally, it would affirm that public funds are a public trust by using these resources to make the country even better than before and to fortify the economy against future risks, like the climate crisis.

We can accomplish each of these goals through recovery efforts that put people to work advancing cleaner, smarter ways to power our future, protect our families and communities from the growing dangers of fossil fuel pollution, and improve the health and well-being of every American.

Our dependence on coal, oil, and gas is taking a widening toll we can no longer afford. It’s poisoning our waters, lands, and air. It’s engulfing us in rising seas, mass extinctions, and raging wildfires, floods, and storms. It’s making us sick and even impairing the ability of many to survive COVID-19. It has compromised the world’s natural immune system in a way that puts us all at risk. And people of color in this country have unjustly shouldered the highest burden for our dependence on fossil fuels for too long.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There is a better way. As we rebuild and rebound from this pandemic, we have the opportunity to invest in healthier, more sustainable ways to power our prosperity.

Before the pandemic hit, nearly 3.4 million Americans were working to help us become more energy efficient, get more clean power from the wind and sun, build some of the world’s best all-electric and hybrid cars, and modernize our electricity grid and storage systems.

This shift to clean energy has become an economic powerhouse, growing jobs 70 percent faster than the general workforce over the past five years and employing three times more people than the fossil fuel industry. But since the pandemic, this nation has lost more than 620,000 clean energy jobs.

Roscoe Wind Project in Texas
Credit: Matthew T Rader

Every dollar of recovery stimulus that supports clean energy is an investment in long-term national prosperity that expands the capacity and potential of the economy. Getting Americans through this economic slump will ensure they can deliver on the more than $10 trillion in investment they are expected to attract over just the next three decades.

We can help make American workers and companies winners in the global clean energy sweepstakes by being strategic about our recovery investment. 

There’s never been a better time. With prices down 70 percent and 89 percent, respectively, over just the past decade, wind and solar power are now the cheapest ways to produce new electricity for two-thirds of the world’s population.

In contrast, the fossil fuel industry was drowning in debt and bankruptcies long before the pandemic hit. Instead of bailing them out, as their friends in power have been pushing for, let’s offer emergency relief for the people who work in those industries and have lost their jobs—and offer training programs that give them an on-ramp to the clean energy economy. That’s how we can ensure a brighter future and stronger economy.

The coronavirus pandemic has offered a stark reminder that a healthy economy cannot exist without healthy people. The investments we make to recover from the current public health crisis should set us up to be better prepared to weather the next. The good news: We know how to do it and, in fact, we’re well on our way, thanks to clean energy.

Now it’s time for our leaders in Congress to turbocharge it in the next recovery package and give our kids and our grandkids the future they deserve: one that’s full of hope and prosperity.

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