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Building the New Economy of Green Jobs

by Duncan Cady, Guest Columnist

Image of female construction manager supervising wind turbines

Green jobs play an important role in our effort to address the climate crisis. In many respects, the term "green jobs" is a catch-all, representing different occupations based on different standards of being "green." For example, what’s green to a West Virginian forester is not the same as green to a New York small business owner, but they each might refer to some of their jobs as green jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks down green jobs into two categories: jobs that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, and jobs that involve making established manufacturing more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources. This definition includes green jobs as those involved with renewable energy production, energy efficiency, environmental management, conservation, and environmental awareness.

Investment in green jobs recognizes that climate change is more than just an environmental or social issue; it has significant implications for short-and long-term economic growth. The Century Foundation notes that job-creating opportunities exist at this junction of economic and environmental concerns that can help address the climate crisis. The Biden administration and Congressional Democrats have seized this opportunity.

Joe Biden ran on a simple message of economic development--the alliterative Build Back Better. This was one of his go-to phrases when discussing economic investment, middle-class jobs, post-pandemic priorities, and climate change. The Biden administration has been committed to creating ten million “Clean Energy Jobs.” Though most of the associated policy statements avoid using the term "green jobs," the jobs that the Biden administration intends to create would be deemed green jobs under the Bureau of Labor Statistics definition:: jobs like manufacturing of high-capacity batteries, carbon-neutral construction materials, and expanding clean energy transmission capabilities for a "smart" and "clean" grid. The policies also focus on other areas of green job growth, such as jobs that shift away from coal and fracking and toward solar and hydropower, as well as research and development in arguably more contentious energy investments, such as small-scale nuclear and carbon capture systems.

Funding of green jobs enables Democrats to broaden support for climate action, while hopefully mitigating the partisan road blocks that have held back climate policy for so long. Despite years of national discourse, climate change is still a partisan issue in Washington, even with widespread agreement by economists and climate change scholars that this kind of green investment is long overdue. A green jobs approach makes the economic benefit of fighting climate change directly relevant to everyday Americans, and builds opportunities for investment and climate action in people’s workplaces, homes, and communities.

The Biden administration is using the 2021 bi-partisan infrastructure plan to pass the green job investments that they campaigned on. The process of passing the infrastructure bill has been long, and in the process, some hoped-for goals have been cut. The White House’s initial proposed infrastructure bill of a $2.6 trillion-dollar investment was shrunk to $1 trillion dollars in the bipartisan plan approved by the Senate. In the process, as reported in the New York Times, cuts were made to climate change investments such as manufacturing research, clean energy, tax credits for utilities, and conservation.

Hope is not lost for these initiatives, however. With the legislative majority tool known as budget reconciliation, Democrats can essentially fund the initiatives in the White House’s infrastructure bill, despite being cut from the Senate’s bill. CNBC  breaks down the Democrats’ plan to move forward with a $3.5 trillion-dollar budget that funds their desired climate change policies without any Republican votes in the Senate. While the budget has not yet passed the House in final form, its broad structure has, and the reconciliation budget plan is expected to pass in late September.

Using green jobs to bridge climate change and the economy highlights the benefits of policies supporting climate action. Progress on green investment, a crucial foundation for building a greener economy and addressing our climate crisis, might soon come to fruition.

Duncan Cady is an undergraduate at Cornell University studying Industrial and Labor Relations, with double minors in Government Public Policy and Inequality Studies. He is a CBC intern.

P.S. We are pleased to announce that our one-hour webinar on Behavior Change for Climate Action for the Oceans and Beyond presented on Thursday, Aug. 26th, is now available on YouTube here.  This webinar by The Center for Behavior and Climate (CBC) teaches you how to apply principles of behavior change to increase individual and collective climate action for the oceans and beyond. From tackling habits to worldview to social influences to framing, we will provide case studies showing the impact of each behavioral tool. Co-sponsors: OCTO (EBM Tools Network, The Skimmer, OpenChannels, MPA News, MarineDebris.info)