With Clean Energy Jobs Booming in Republican Districts, It's Time to Recalibrate Climate Politics
Many elected officials want to solve climate change for the same reason activists do. Rising global temperatures will be a terrible burden on our children, cost our economy trillions and cause dangerous changes to the natural world.
But winning enough votes in Congress for bold policy changes also requires raw politics—and on that score, there's an important, under-appreciated shift that may be improving our chances.
Look at the chart below, from Morning Consult. Clean energy jobs, in the form of utility-scale wind or solar facilities, are now mostly in Republican districts.
That's because sunshine and wind are abundant in places such as Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas. And rural areas, often represented by Republicans, have inexpensive land available for facilities like this.
Clean energy jobs, in other words, are no longer partisan or regional, if they ever were. Texas leads the nation in wind. North Carolina and Nevada are hot beds of solar energy.
Jobs Drive Policy, for Better or Worse
There are very few things politicians care about more than their constituents' jobs. It's not an exaggeration to say that job stability and growth are the lens through which they see nearly every issue.
Former Secretary of State James Baker once tried to build support in Congress for the first Gulf War by saying, of the main reason to act, “if you want to sum it up in one word, it's jobs."
In fact, claims about job losses were used to great effect against comprehensive climate legislation in 2009. Proponents of that argument seemed to forget the far larger economic damage from unchecked climate change, but their talking points had a big impact on nervous members of Congress.
In response, environmental activists and economists talked about the very real potential for clean energy jobs—but existing always beats potential in a political fight. And the “jobs argument" was used to increase the partisan divide on climate and clean energy issues.
But now things are changing—rapidly.
Next time Congress considers climate legislation, the terms of the debate may be different.
Nationwide, solar jobs have grown 20 percent annually for the last three years. There are now far more jobs in that industry than in coal mining and most new electric generating capacity added last year was renewable.
Red states and congressional districts, again, are on the receiving end of a large chunk of that growth.
It could be that next time Congress considers comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation, the terms of the debate will be different. This time, the “jobs argument" would come from a bi-partisan block of politicians representing clean energy workers with real jobs.
And that might just change the whole conversation.
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Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
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What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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