Monday, November 12, 2012

Doom? Or Opportunity? The Choice Is Ours.

Many times this year, we've discussed the potential of renewable energy. And we've discussed the grave threat of climate change. For far too long, we only saw these two subjects in the abstract. Yet this year, we finally began seeing both in the concrete.

We've seen tremendous growth in the renewable energy sector.

More than 10,800 jobs were announced in the clean energy industry and related sectors during the third quarter, according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the national group of business leaders who advocate for sound economic and environmental policies.

Ten states including Nevada were the big winners during the third quarter of 2012, landing the bulk of the nation’s new clean energy jobs, according to the report.

The top 10 states ranked in the latest E2 report are California, Illinois, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

Yet we've also seen quite a bit of terrible destruction this year.

Congress returns in mid-November to the fiscal cliff debate. Hurricane Sandy should put the issue of climate change squarely within this discussion. Sandy’s estimated costs are $10–$20 billion in insured losses with at least another $50 billion in economic damages. The $12 billion in government money set aside for disaster relief this year will be easily gobbled up in the recovery. Congress will be forced to seek additional money to help effected citizens. The federal price tag for the recovery from Hurricane Katrina reached $120 billion. Sandy may not reach that total, but the amount of federal money spent on the relief will be significant.

Hurricane Sandy, however, is only one piece of the climate impact puzzle. This year the country has also experienced record drought,widespread wildfires,and the worst West Nile virus outbreak ever. Munich Re put the cost of the first six months of 2012’s extreme weather events at over $14.5 billion. All of these impacts have required a federal government response. Lawmakers sought $800 million in additional funds this year to deal with wildfires and new legislation for over $300 million in drought assistance to livestock producers hit by the drought is expected soon.

But wait there is more. Sandy has shown that the country needs a crash course in preparing for and adapting to the changes and impacts that will occur in the future (read NWF’s prescription here). This is not cheap. For example, Norfolk, VA—home of Naval Station Norfolk and on the frontline of climate impacts—has a comprehensive adaptation plan that will cost about $1 billion. This is roughly twice the city’s entire annual budget and cannot be undertaken without federal dollars.

So, if we are serious about addressing the federal budget crisis, lawmakers need to look at the exploding costs of climate change impacts and how much it will take to better prepare for such events.

Last Friday, President Obama mentioned our need to "get to work" on clean energy.

Yet perhaps the most powerful voice in Washington to take on this issue has been none other than Nevada's own Harry Reid. He's always been an outspoken advocate for renewable energy development here in Nevada and nationwide. But in August, he went further in making crystal clear the threat of climate change.

And last week, Harry Reid reiterated his commitment to reaching a legislative solution on clean energy investment and limiting the future destructive power of the climate crisis.

“Climate change is an extremely important issue for me and I hope we can address it reasonably,” Reid told reporters. “It's something, as we've seen with these storms that are overwhelming our country and the world, we need to do something about it.”

Certainly, it won't be easy. With a still divided Congress, most Capitol Hill watchers are not (yet) banking on even a proper debate on implementing a climate tax. However as "The Fiscal Cliff" quickly approaches and talk on (federal) tax reform can no longer be avoided, we may actually have an unprecedented opportunity to work on implementing an actual carbon tax and taking the most significant action on climate change that we will have seen.

The stakes now are higher than ever before. We've started to get a taste of the frightening doom that lies ahead if we fail to act on climate change. However, we've also started to see real, tangible economic benefits to renewable energy investment. At this point, the choice is ours as to whether we see more doom... Or create more opportunity.

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