What We Can Do to Keep the Climate Crisis From Killing Jobs

Cities and states have the tools to help shape a future that is both clean and equitable.
June 17, 2019 AT 4:00 AM
Ski slope with no snow.
Unusually warm weather has forced some ski resorts to close their operations more than normal. (AP/Jim Cole)
By Alaa Milbes  |  Contributor
Communications director for Jobs to Move America

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, one that becomes more visible every day with media coverage of its impacts in different parts of the globe. Not only do these often-catastrophic environmental events threaten lives and property, but they are also a threat to our economic prosperity and have already killed jobs.

Across the country, for example, seasonal jobs are under threat as workplaces close due to extreme weather events and coastal flooding. Government budgets are being gutted by the high costs of cleanups and repairs after climate disasters, such as California's wildfires, the hurricanes that have devastated Texas and the Southeast, and the drenching rainfalls that have repeatedly flooded inland areas across much of the country.

It's not only public-sector budgets that are feeling the impact. According to a new report from CDP, an international nonprofit that works with companies to assess risks and opportunities relating to climate change, 215 of the world's biggest corporations project that they could face nearly $1 trillion in costs related to climate risks, with over half of those costs expected to materialize in the next few years. These costs could contribute to massive layoffs.

Climate action that matches the scale of the impending crisis requires a swift transition to a decarbonized economy. But while shifts toward clean-energy technology have been creating jobs, we cannot rely on the market alone to shape a good future for all workers or protect our environment for future generations.

A prosperous economy and a healthy environment don't happen by accident. They go hand in hand and are a result of decisions we make together as a society. Luckily, cities and states have a range of policy options at their disposal that can curb emissions while shaping an equitable, better future for workers. To achieve this, and to ensure that our economy works for everyone, they need to implement inclusive policies aimed at cleaning our environment and creating jobs.

Each year, local, state and federal governments spend $2 trillion on goods and services. That's equal to 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and, if spent in a strategic way, could help to shape a fair economy while combating the climate crisis.

Some cities and states are already using their purchasing power to strengthen and bolster economic and climate policy. In 2017, for example, the Los Angeles city council set a goal for its transportation department "to transition to a 100 percent zero-emission bus fleet by 2030 or earlier." But the council took it a step further by including the U.S. Employment Plan, a customizable tool (co-developed by my organization, Jobs to Move America) that aims to ensure that this kind of procurement creates good jobs and workforce-development opportunities, especially for marginalized communities.

In 2016, Illinois sought to stimulate job growth through new investments in renewable energy by passing the Future Energy Jobs Act. The legislation ramped up renewable-energy development in the state with a particular focus on bringing solar-related jobs to low-income communities. One of its success stories is Chris Williams. The law helped him launch a training program for his black-owned solar business in Chicago's South Side. In the last two years, it has trained more than 50 people who otherwise would not have access to this type of career development.

These are important steps in the right direction, but far more is needed. With just 11 years left before we lose the opportunity to limit global warming to moderate levels, we need to ask ourselves what future we want to live in and what we want to leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

The growing support for a Green New Deal shows that there's an appetite for policies that shape a clean, equitable future. It's up to our states and communities to help make it a reality. We have the tools, and we don't have time to waste.