Action on Climate Change Legislation Needed to Create Jobs, Transform Economy

Professor Tom Lyon

Professor Tom Lyon

by Thomas P. Lyon

This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free on June 3, 2009.

Important climate change legislation working its way through Congress right now provides real opportunities for Michigan’s economy. Opponents of the plan are quick to overstate the costs using scare tactics and bogus science, while refusing to discuss the cost of doing nothing. Yet strong climate legislation is needed to help Michigan make the transition to a new economy for the 21st century, and to protect our state against the threats posed by climate change.

Michigan’s largest industrial employers—including Dow Chemical, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, along with the UAW—are already on record as supporting strong climate legislation.  They want the regulatory certainty that will allow them to confidently make investments in new, cleaner technologies.

Even more important, Michigan’s emerging businesses need climate legislation to help them transform Michigan’s economy.  Protecting and creating jobs in Michigan’s worsening economy must be at the top of the priority list for our leaders in the state and in our nation’s capital. Renewable energy is the brightest spot on the horizon, and this legislation would create new market opportunities for renewable energy companies.

The renewable energy industry already is creating jobs right here in Michigan. The state’s first-ever Green Jobs Report, released in May, found that employment in the green sector grew by nearly 8 percent between 2005 and 2008. During that same time period, the average employment rate in Michigan declined by 5.4 percent. Michigan already has more than 109,000 green jobs, and that number is growing.

A study from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts concluded that Michigan’s economy will grow 79 percent with strong climate protections while harmful carbon emissions will fall by 36 percent. That same study showed an 11.7-percent increase in Michigan jobs.

There is no doubt that Michigan needs to diversify its economy. More bad news delivered this week from the ailing auto industry is proof that the status quo will no longer cut it in Michigan. There is no time like the present to take the skills and the know-how that many of our idled workers possess and put them to good use in the production of renewable energy components. Workers who transformed steel into autos can just as easily transform steel into blades for wind turbines. The electricians who maintain the giant machines that churn out autos can maintain the machines that churn out solar panels.

Furthermore, climate change poses serious threats to two of Michigan’s biggest industries: agriculture and tourism. Agriculture pumps $60.1 billion into Michigan’s economy every year. More than 1 million workers support their families thanks to the jobs provided by the second-largest industry in the state. Climate change leaves this industry vulnerable to erratic weather patterns and violent storms that can seriously threaten crop production.  According to a 2008 National Conference of State Legislatures study, climate change will cost Michigan $20 billion in agriculture losses..

The Great Lakes and Michigan’s other waterways are the centerpiece of our tourism industry, which adds another $17.5 billion to Michigan’s economy every year and provides 200,000 jobs. Our great outdoors are what make Michigan special, and climate change puts it all at risk.

Fighting climate change goes beyond protecting the jobs that we already have – it presents us with an opportunity to revitalize our economy and get our workers back on the job. It’s an opportunity we simply can’t afford to waste.

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