In every crisis, there is an opportunity

Finding the economic opportunity in combatting climate change

Albert Einstein said, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” There is no question that we are in the midst of a climate crisis. So where are the opportunities? For the Massachusetts economy, they abound.

In 2017, we saw climate change pull the ground from under many communities. Drastic weather events washed away homes in Houston, disintegrated communities in California, and depleted the entire island of Puerto Rico. The effects of climate change are going to be far and wide. Massachusetts is no exception; in fact, research shows that New England will be hit the hardest by the environmental threats. A University of Massachusetts’ study showed that even if we do curb greenhouse gas emissions, sea levels will rise as much as 6 feet by 2100 and 12 feet by 2200, in Boston alone. To put it in perspective, Faneuil Hall floods at 5 feet.

Climate change is no longer a theoretical idea. It’s a crisis. Not only will it change our landscapes, but it promises to turn the state’s entire economy upside down. A sea level rise of 3 feet over 2000 levels could cost Boston on average $1.4 billion to recover. A modest 2 foot sea level rise on Cape Cod will impact over 97 businesses, which could result in $188 million lost in sales in to the local economy and 851 jobs at stake.

Yet, in the face of environmental and economic threats, there is proven economic opportunity rooted in combatting climate change. Since being one of the first states to set goals on reducing emissions through passing the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2008, Massachusetts has committed to making investments in clean energy, and economic benefits have followed.

Already, the clean energy industry in Massachusetts has diversified our energy mix, and reduced our reliance on fossil fuel; and, in turn, fueled the state’s economy and employed over 109,000 residents, an increase of 81 percent since 2010, contributing $11.4 billion to the state’s Gross State Product.

Prioritizing a cleaner future has attracted the most talented an innovative workforce, according to Bloomberg’s 2017 Innovative index, Massachusetts ranked Massachusetts number one, beating California and New York.

2018 promises to bring more renewable sources that will reduce emissions, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and stimulate continued growth in the clean energy industry.

In January, the Department of Energy Resources will select projects to move forward in launching the first potential large scale offshore wind farm in the United States, and other major renewable energy procurements; a promising undertaking, given the Energy Watch Group recently reported that transitioning to renewable electricity isn’t just good for reducing emissions, it’s more cost-effective than our current system that relies on fossil fuels. Proposals of this size have the potential bring thousands of jobs, and revitalize industrial communities in Southern Massachusetts.

In concert with transitioning to clean energy sources, this year the state awarded $20 million in grants to support energy storage initiatives that will maximize the benefits of renewable sources, such as offshore wind, making the grid more reliable, and stimulating growth of another clean industry.

The new year shall be no different than the last. Industry experts report that future goals should include increasing the Commonwealth’s Renewable Portfolio Standards by 2 to 3 percent, a step that is critical in helping to meet climate goals, reduce energy costs, and create up to 43, 000 jobs across New England.

Despite diversifying the state’s energy mix, the transportation sector is still responsible for almost 40% of emissions in the Commonwealth. With a deteriorating public transportation system, the state should use the new year to build on what they learned in the 2017 Transportation Listening Sessions. Using the need to reduce emissions as a vehicle to build resilient and modern public transit, such as dedicated bus lanes, could help the state meet the demands of a 21st century economy and environmental challenges.

The effects of climate change are inevitable and promise to be an uphill battle that will alter our landscapes, and change our ways of living. Yet in Massachusetts, mitigating and adapting to the challenges has presented an opportunity to thrive — both economically and environmentally. Let’s keep pace with renewable commitments in the new year.

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