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How realistic a goal is decarbonizing the economy?

Enrique Dans
Oct 28, 2019 · 3 min read

An analysis of the size of the US green economy shows that despite the subsidies to the oil and coal industry by the world’s most vocal denier of the climate emergency, sales and employment figures for the 24 economic subsectors that make up renewable energies, environmental protection and the provision of low-carbon goods and services, represent more than $1.3 trillion dollars in turnover, and is growing by around 20% annually, and employs some 9.5 million people, giving it a much greater economic impact than the entire fossil fuel industry.

These figures provide strong arguments for the Green New Deal proposed by several of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential elections: when you can show with figures that the green economy generates 10 times more jobs than oil, concerns about energy poverty or an economic downturn vanish. The reality the Green New Deal highlights, and not just in the United States, but here in Spain, is that sustainability can be combined with the generation of wealth and employment, based on activities that do not poison us or make our planet uninhabitable.

On Saturday, I was talking to a person I consider intelligent, and who confessed to me that until recently he had been a climate emergency denier. My definition of an intelligent person is based not just on what they read, write, or say, but on their ability to change their mind, and in this case my interlocutor clearly met these requirements. We discussed how reconverting the world economy will not reduce our possibilities, but instead will provide an opportunity for more efficient development, greater generation of wealth, as well as providing for a cleaner and more sustainable future. People — rightly so — are not willing to buy into a future of restrictions, energy poverty or less industry: what we all want is to be part of a future that, in addition to being cleaner, is better for all.

We can stop buying from companies whose manufacturing processes are harmful to society or to the planet without harming the economy, in fact as the evidence cited above shows, more jobs and more wealth can be generated by reconverting obsolete and harmful activities rather than keeping traditional industries alive through lobbying. The discovery more than a century ago that we could generate energy with something we had found in the ground gave some of us unprecedented economic growth, while for many countries oil has proved a curse and for the planet, a disaster. The oil companies have lied to us about the impact of fossil fuels, and instead focused on scare stories about what will happen when the oil runs out. For decades, these companies have steadfastly denied the existence of the climate emergency and its effects, instead putting their efforts into convincing governments that there was no alternative to oil.

We need to understand that we are now living through a technological transition, from an obsolete, inefficient and problematic technology, complex as a cuckoo clock, toward a cleaner more efficient source of energy that will drive industry and change how we consume. Decarbonizing the economy will not make us poorer; it will make us wealthier. Closing down thermal power plants will mean some jobs go, but others will be created in their place. The solution to the climate emergency is not to prolong the life of environmentally unsustainable industries, nor is it to be technologically neutral (what’s neutral about a technology that kills you?), nor is it about continuing to make internal combustion engines until 2040, or building and operating coal, diesel or gas power plants until further into the future. The solution is to end those harmful activities much earlier. As soon as possible. But remember, this isn’t a leap into the dark, it’s about understanding that a greener, cleaner economy can generate much more wealth than the previous model.

The sooner we get to grips with driving economic growth by dismantling and converting our polluting industrial fabric and promoting the development of clean alternatives, the sooner we can begin to think about solutions to the greatest challenge that humanity has ever faced.

(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at enriquedans.com and Senior Contributor at Forbes

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School, blogger at enriquedans.com and Senior Contributor at Forbes

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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