In the closing months of 2012, the US sits at a fork in the road in its quest to reverse the economic downturn and maintain its global leadership.
There is broad consensus around the challenges to be solved: America needs more home-grown jobs, it needs to wean itself off foreign oil, it needs to re-establish its competitiveness with rapidly emerging economies like China, and it needs to ensure economic growth is sustainable in the face of the realities of dwindling resources and a growing world population.
Thus begins the report, "An American Clean Revolution," by The Climate Group. There are two very different paths to achieving these goals, it says.
The first, based on ‘business as usual’, continues to use domestic fossil energy to drive growth, betting that the path that made America great will still lead us in the right direction. The second path transforms the economy using renewable energy resources.
A massive scale-up of investment in cleantech and renewable energy would future-proof America’s infrastructure, mitigate catastrophic extreme weather events resulting from climate change, and boost the US economy.
Cleantech innovation, says the report, could add $155 billion a year to the US economy by 2030, adding up to $3 trillion by mid-century. With the right government policies, those numbers are much bigger. And a national energy efficiency strategy could unlock $1.2 trillion in savings by 2020.
Inaction on climate change is getting pretty expensive, growing from $3 billion a year in weather-related insurance costs in the 1980s to $20 billion a year now and rising. Since 1980, coastal disasters have surpassed $560 billion in damages – excluding Hurricane Sandy.
Climate change-related health costs are also rising. For example, West Nile Virus hit a record 2000 reported cases this year in the US with 87 deaths. Unknown before 1998, the disease is spreading with climbing temperatures.
Yesterday, NY State Governor Cuomo said, "Climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable." In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, he talked about the extreme difficulty of – but necessity in thinking through a new kind of infrastructure for NYC. 100 years ago, when the subways were built, NYC didn’t have extreme hurricanes and floods. Now, they are flooded and the city’s biggest asset is becoming a liability.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg also spoke of climate change in his surprise endorsement of President Obama. "The devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to New York City and much of the Northeast — in lost lives, lost homes and lost business — brought the stakes of Tuesday’s presidential election into sharp relief," he writes in his endorsement, titled "A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change.
"The floods and fires that swept through our city left a path of destruction that will require years of recovery and rebuilding work. In just 14 months, two hurricanes have forced us to evacuate neighborhoods — something our city government had never done before. If this is a trend, it is simply not sustainable," he continues.
He pointed to his PlaNYC, the city’s comprehensive climate plan, saying NYC has cut carbon emissions 16% in the past five years – the equivalent of eliminating the carbon footprint of a city twice the size of Seattle. Through the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, cities have been taking action where national governments have not.
But leadership is desperately needed from the White House, and President Obama has provided that, he says. Even though Congress refused to act on energy legislation, he managed to set historic fuel economy standards for vehicles and adopt tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants.
Although as Governor, Mitt Romney signed onto the region’s cap-and-trade plan, he has since reversed course, says Bloomberg. "This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward."
In fact, says Bloomberg, Mitt Romney has reversed course on all his previously sensible positions on immigration, illegal guns, abortion rights and even his own health care model.
"When I step into the voting booth, I think about the world I want to leave my two daughters, and the values that are required to guide us there. The two parties’ nominees for president offer different visions of where they want to lead America," says Bloomberg.
"One believes a woman’s right to choose should be protected; one does not. That difference, given the likelihood of Supreme Court vacancies, weighs heavily on my decision.
One recognizes marriage equality as consistent with America’s march of freedom; one does not. I want our president to be on the right side of history.
One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics."
The American Clean Revolution initiative was launched during this year’s Climate Week NYC, organized in partnership with the City of New York and supported by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Business and political leaders including Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, conservative commentator Norman Ornstein, CEOs and Chairmen of top companies, World Bank representatives, National Farmers Union, American Medical Association and World Evangelical Alliance came together during Climate Week NYC to call for an American "Clean Revolution" which could grow the US economy by $3 trillion and create more than 1 million new jobs.