Upgraded Water Systems Can Put Millions to Work and Reduce Pollution
Want to create nearly 1.9 million American jobs and add $265 billion to the economy? Upgrade our water and wastewater infrastructure. That's the message of a new report released Oct. 4 by Green For All, in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute. The Rockefeller Foundation generously provided funding for the project.
Every year, sewage overflows dump 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage into our water systems—enough to cover the entire state of Pennsylvania with waste one-inch deep. But investment in our nation's infrastructure to handle stormwater and wastewater has lagged, falling by one-third since its 1975 peak.
The report—Water Works: Rebuilding Infrastructure, Creating Jobs, Greening the Environment—looks at an investment of $188.4 billion in water infrastructure—the amount the EPA indicates would be required to manage stormwater and preserve water quality. That investment would inject a quarter of a trillion dollars into the economy, create nearly 1.3 million direct and indirect jobs in related sectors and result in 568,000 additional jobs from increased spending.
Further, the report notes that this is the best moment to make the investment. With the recession creating a shortfall of 11.1 million jobs that would be needed to keep pace with the population and 9.1 percent unemployment, these jobs are critically needed. Moreover, the cost of financing these essential upgrades is at historic lows, and the still-struggling economy means much cheaper construction costs. Investing in green infrastructure approaches that more closely mimic natural systems is part of the solution, and further provides the additional benefits of reducing pollution of creeks and other waterways, saving energy and increasing green space in urban areas.
"Cleaning our environment and putting people to work has always been the value proposition of the green economy," said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All. "This report demonstrates that there's a massive opportunity to ensure clean water, improve the economy and put people—particularly low-income workers—back to work."
"Our nation's water and wastewater systems are deteriorating, with impacts on human and environmental health," said Eli Moore, co-director of the Pacific Institute Community Strategies for Sustainability and Justice Program. "Investing in these systems can promote the long-term sustainability of our precious water resources."
"America's failing infrastructure has a direct impact on clean water, river health and communities," said Gary Belan of American Rivers. "By investing in smarter, more cost-effective water infrastructure that works with nature, not against it, we can improve the health of rivers and communities, and put people back to work in the process."
"The time for investment is now. Every day we wait adds additional cost to the economy and harm to the health and well-being of American families," said John Irons, research and policy director of Economic Policy Institute.
The full report is available here. Report authors are available to answer questions or provide additional information. To contact an author, please call Mary Creasman at (510) 663-6500 ext. 336.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
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The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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