The Economic Case for Fighting Climate Change

Gina McCarthy
Jun 16, 2015 · 5 min read

A strong, competitive American economy depends on climate action.

For nearly 45 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has worked to cut pollution to keep people safe. That’s our mission: to protect public health and the environment. In that time, we’ve dramatically cleaned up our water and our air.

But climate change is as big an environmental challenge as we have ever faced. It supercharges risks not only to our health, but to our economy and our way of life. From stronger storms and longer droughts to increased allergy seasons, insurance premiums, and food prices, climate impacts affect all Americans’ lives.

We know what’s fueling it: carbon pollution. And power plants are the largest source. We already have commonsense limits for smog- and soot-forming pollution from power plants as well as for toxics like mercury and arsenic — but there are currently no such restrictions on carbon pollution.

As proposed, by 2030 our Clean Power Plan will cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels. From thousands fewer asthma and heart attacks to reduced smog and soot, the health benefits of climate action are enormous — and so are the benefits to our economy.

When we set ground rules to limit carbon pollution, we send a long-term market signal that propels innovation and investment in cleaner energy technologies, expanding new industries and creating good-paying jobs.

First — our low carbon future is inevitable. A clean energy transformation is already underway, and EPA’s Clean Power Plan will help accelerate ongoing progress.

Since President Obama took office, we’ve tripled our wind power and have generated 20 times more solar electricity.

Solar jobs are growing faster than any other sector in the American economy, with one job added every 20 minutes in 2014 — those are jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

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Source: The White House

The cost of solar continues to fall year after year. By some estimates, a new solar system is installed every four minutes in the U.S.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan builds on existing momentum. As states, utilities, businesses, industries and families look to squeeze out carbon pollution from their buildings, homes and operations, they’ll increasingly turn to cleaner sources like wind and solar, and cleaner strategies like increased efficiency — because it saves them money.

All this means more jobs, not less. We’ll need thousands of American workers, in construction, renovation and more, to make a cleaner, more efficient power sector a reality.

Second — our rule sends a long term market signal that gives companies and banks the certainty they need to accelerate investment in cutting-edge clean energy technologies.

Many forward-looking energy companies embrace climate action as the new normal — for example, Spectra Energy is investing billions in clean energy, and utilities like Exelon and Entergy are already weaving climate considerations into their business plans.

Big banks are putting big money down on our low-carbon future — for example, Citigroup recently pledged $100 billion over the next 10 years to support projects that reduce emissions and protect communities.

The value of climate action spans further than the energy sector. Companies like Best Buy are investing in low-carbon operations, and Bank of America pays its employees to cut carbon pollution.

Why? Because investors and CEOs see reducing pollution as valuable to their companies’ bottom lines. That’s why more than a thousand of the world’s largest multinational companies have collectively called climate action “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.”

Third — let’s not forget: The American people and the American economy have faced enormous pollution challenges before, and history proves we can turn incredible challenges into incredible opportunity.

In the 1980s, acid rain poisoned rivers, killed wildlife and eroded buildings. EPA stepped in to reduce the source pollution from power plants, spurring private-sector innovation that’s helped make America the world’s leading exporter of pollution control technology — a sector with exports worth $44 billion a year (more than other large U.S. sectors like plastics and rubber products) and accounting for 1.7 million jobs.

When EPA phased out toxic leaded gasoline, we jumpstarted innovation that led to dramatically cleaner cars, a stronger automotive industry, and — in just a few decades — we’ve gone from 88 percent of American children having elevated levels of lead in their blood to less than 1 percent today.

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Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

Even with a proven track record of economic strength from environmental progress, some special-interest critics remain skeptical about climate action’s positive influence on our economy.

But the facts are clear: Just last week, yet another independent study showed our rule will lead to a net job gain. Back when we proposed our rule, a separate study said that even those states still skeptical about EPA’s action will see a net economic benefit of $16 billion.

At the end of the day, the case for climate action is much bigger than any one study. It comes down to a simple question: What kind of world do we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren?

We know the answer: a world that’s safer, cleaner and rich with economic opportunity.

When you take that full view, the economic case for climate action — and EPA’s Clean Power Plan — is compelling beyond doubt.

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