This post was written by Brad Johnson and guest blogger Alexandra Kougentakis, a Center for American Progress Action Fund Fellows Assistant.
Over the past few weeks, the political focus has shifted from the climate crisis — unfortunately in the form of a false debate over offshore drilling — to the financial crisis. It was essential that President Bush and Congress take serious action to secure the economy and limit the repercussions that the failures on Wall Street have on American families. The imperfect Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is only the first step. But during this upheaval we must remember that achieving energy security and reversing global warming are even more fundamentally critical to our nation. Failure to halt the planetary meltdown would cause more damage than the financial meltdown.
Because of rampant deregulation, the federal government was forced to take aggressive action to avert financial catastrophe. With climate change, however, “bailout” is not an option. Already, the effects of extreme weather events linked to global warming make it clear that unceasing damage control measures will be necessary if responsible action is not taken soon.
This damage control will only become increasingly expensive as climate disasters grow worse. The German Institute for Economic Research estimated that annual economic damages from hurricane damages, real estate losses, energy costs, and water costs could reach $20 trillion (in 2002 dollars) by 2100. Just this year, Congress authorized additional emergency federal funding to fight wildfires, bringing the total fire-fighting budget to over $2 billion. The emergency financial bailout included an additional $3.5 billion in disaster relief for the victims of the Midwestern floods, hurricanes, and future global boiling-related disasters.
We can continue spending more and more on “cheap” but nonrenewable, polluting fuels like oil, coal, and uranium, while also spending more and more dealing with the environmental devastation of their pollution. In contrast, the economics of wind and solar are the reverse — the price for renewable energy goes down over time. The costs for expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency measures come in the initial capital investment. Afterwards, the only costs are for operation and maintenance — the sun, wind, and the tides are free.
The $700 billion financial bailout actually made a small start in the right direction, by including the extension of key renewable energy tax credits, paid for by removing nearly $9 billion in subsidies for the oil and gas industry — a progressive victory that finally came after nearly two years of opposition from Bush and his conservative allies. And yet, there are also provisions supporting planet-killing liquid coal, oil shale, and tar sands.
On Monday, House Democrats are meeting to discuss an stimulus package to rebuild our economy. It is essential they recognize we must build a green collar economy. The Center for American Progress’s Green Recovery plan is a blueprint for such a stimulus, an investment of $100 billion in renewable energy, building retrofits, mass transit expansion, and a smart electric grid. This package would create two million green jobs in two years, and would put our nation — and our planet — back on the right track.
Read Don’t Forget the Climate Crisis for more.
UPDATE: The continuing resolution passed in September included $22.9 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations for relief and recovery from hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters.