After the election: What clean energy can do for America

You can't  miss the fact that both Time and Newsweek chose the week of the Presidential election to run pieces on how the economic downturn will affect efforts to solve global warming. 

Yes, most eyes are on the election through Tuesday night (cross your fingers it's only through Tuesday night) but both magazines recognize that - come Wednesday morning - the questions will start focusing on how the new Administration and Congress will deal with the limping economy and energy prices, and what this means for investing in clean energy and solving global warming.

Both magazines offer compelling reasons why clean energy investments should be a priority even during rough economic times, and both balance this by pointing out that tighter credit markets make it harder to invest in clean energy.

Unfortunately, this framework misses the question we should be asking: What can investments in clean energy and global warming solutions do for the ailing U.S. and world economies?

In Will Green Progress Be Stalled by the Bad Economy?, Time Magazine looks largely at how the economic crisis could cloud the outlook for clean energy.  But the article also notes that the commitment to push for policies to limit global warming pollution remains a priority for many European leaders and the US presidential candidates. Given this, Time reports

"'The stage is set for a wholesale change in the way the U.S. approaches climate change,' says Terry Tamminem, the former environmental advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger..." 

Newsweek's "Why It's Time for a 'Green New Deal" looks more closely at the "green" investments question in making the case that clean energy is the right antidote for an anemic global economy, saying that there are

"...powerful voices being raised amid the din of despair, saying that now is precisely the time to seize the initiative and launch the "global revolution"... And not just because it will stave off disasters two or three decades away, but also because it can provide the impetus to pull the global economy out of the slump it's in now and put it on a more solid foundation than it's had in at least a generation."

If you happen to be a reporter (or anyone else who cares about getting the whole story), here are a few facts that should be part of any conversation about what to do next about our economic woes:

  1. Clean energy jobs are already here. 750,000 Americans already have jobs tied to clean energy development, according to a recent report by the US Conference of Mayors.
  2. Clean energy jobs are good jobs. Dollar for dollar, investing in clean energy (efficiency and renewables like windand solar) creates more jobs than investing in traditional energy sources like oil and gas, according to testimony by economist Dr. Robert Pollin, of the Political Economy Research Institute.
  3. A common-sense national policy on global warming and energy will drive further market investments in clean energy. The U.S. could reduce a huge amount of its global warming pollution at little or no net cost, but Congress has to send the right policy signals so that markets channel more of their capital into clean energy technology and deployment than traditional energy supplies, according to an in-depth analysis by the highly respected consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
  4. A "pay-as-you-pollute" arrangement could mean huge capital for green investments. By charging big polluters for their global warming pollution, Congress could raisearound $150 billionper year to develop and deploy clean energy systems throughout the U.S., writes our own Andy Stevenson.

So rather than asking how today's economy will affect prospects for global warming solutions, we should be asking - and acting on - how solving global warming will affect prospects for tomorrow's economy.  Just remember that Wednesday morning!