Improving Public Health

If global warming continues unabated, extreme heat waves that now occur once every 20 years are projected to occur about every other year by the end of the century in much of the country. Urban areas such as Philadelphia, Chicago, and Indianapolis will likely experience the worst effects. Higher temperatures and the associated stagnant air masses, interacting with pollution from vehicles and industry, are also expected to increase the frequency and intensity of conditions conducive to smog formation. Children, the elderly, and the poor are particularly vulnerable to respiratory, cardiovascular, and heat-related illnesses exacerbated by these conditions.

Conversely, reducing our emissions through a shift to cleaner forms of energy will not only help slow global warming but will also improve air quality, reducing the cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses that result from high levels of ozone and airborne particulates. Such cuts in emissions will also reduce the amount of mercury and other heavy metals—by-products of coal-fired power plants—that enter our air, water, and food.

Competing Internationally

The clean energy economy is poised to be the growth industry of the future worldwide, and the United States could be at the vanguard of that trend if we adopt strong renewable energy policies today. But we will have to pick up the pace to stay competitive internationally. China—already the world’s largest producer of solar panels—recently committed to increasing its solar power capacity 15 times over by 2011, aiming for two gigawatts of installed capacity by that year. Similarly, India is planning to boost solar power from near zero to 20 gigawatts by 2020, part of an ambitious $19 billion, 30-year plan to increase the share of renewables in that country’s energy mix.

The United States must continue to expand its burgeoning clean energy industries—wind, solar, biomass, geothermal power, and efficient vehicles, among others—to keep pace with other countries. Strong policies to promote investment in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean transportation, as part of a comprehensive climate plan, will create the momentum to keep these industries internationally competitive.

Creating Jobs

Renewable energy has been one of the bright spots of the U.S. economy during these hard times. The solar industry estimates that it created more than 15,000 jobs in 2007 and 2008, and the wind industry boasts of having created more than 35,000 new direct and indirect jobs in 2008.

A recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study found that a standard requiring the nation to produce 25 percent of all electricity from renewable sources by 2025 would create nearly 300,000 new U.S. jobs. That is three times the number of jobs that would be created by producing the same amount of electricity from coal and natural gas. Such a “renewable electricity standard” could also stimulate the national as well as local economies by generating $263 billion in new capital investment, $14 billion in income for U.S. farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $12 billion in new local tax revenues.

Helping Avoid the Runaway Costs of Climate Change

Every region in the United States is already experiencing the costly effects of climate change—including coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels and more intense hurricanes; Midwest farmlands facing more crop-damaging heat waves, pests, and flooding; and communities in the West and Southwest experiencing drought and wildfires.

Action to sharply reduce our global warming emissions can greatly curtail the costs of climate change, especially over the longer term. For example, climate action can help numerous businesses that are vulnerable to a changing climate, from maple sugaring in the Northeast and skiing in Colorado to vital energy and transportation companies that depend on offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and shipping on the Great Lakes.

One study has estimated that, if emissions remain unchecked, losses related to just four areas—hurricane damages, energy costs, water costs, and residential costs stemming from sea-level rise—could equal 1.4 percent of GDP by 2025, and 1.9 percent of GDP by 2100.