A report released Wednesday by a new nonprofit—in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the resulting economic disaster, and calls for a green recovery from those intertwined crises that prioritizes aggressive climate policies—lays out how rapidly decarbonizing and electrifying the U.S. economy could create up to 25 million good-paying jobs throughout the country over the next 15 years.
"For so long we've been sold the lie that we have to choose between good jobs and a safe environment, that our generation has to choose between a livable planet and a thriving, equitable economy. The Rewiring America Plan puts that lie to rest once and for all."
—Varshini Prakash, Sunrise Movement
Mobilizing for a Zero Carbon America (pdf) envisions a dramatic transformation of the nation's power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors by 2035 to meet the global heating goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The first project of the newly launched Rewiring America is "based on an extensive industrial and engineering analysis of what such a decarbonization would entail."
The report details a two-stage "maximum feasible transition" (MFT) that would involve a World War II-style production ramp-up for three to five years, followed by "an intensive deployment of decarbonized infrastructure and technology up to 2035," which would include both supply-side generation technologies and demand-side technologies like electric vehicles.
In addition to creating millions of green jobs in the wake of a public health crisis that has left tens of millions of Americans unemployed and helping the country contribute to the goals of the Paris accord—which President Donald Trump started withdrawing from last November—the report says that the MFT approach would save households nationwide up to thousands of dollars in annual energy costs.
"While government investment will be critical to the transition, private capital also has a large role to play," a summary document (pdf) from the group says. "The study estimates the government's share of overall costs to be about $300 billion per year for 10 years for an approximate total of $3 trillion, mostly in the form of loans and/or loan guarantees to spur lending, akin to similar loan systems that the government has created in the past."
A MacArthur Genius, business leader, and MIT physicist have a plan: get 25 million Americans back to work in good-paying jobs, fix the #Economy and solve the #climatecrisis at the same time - all with existing technology we have today. Here’s how we do it: https://t.co/8I0LfcfVZ1 pic.twitter.com/Ybe80wORsP
— Otherlab (@otherlab) July 29, 2020
"We can power our homes by the sun, charge our cars from clean energy while we sleep, and rethink city streets as we know them. In the process, we can create 25 million jobs in America. The only thing standing in the way is a leadership vacuum," lead author Saul Griffith, an engineer and inventor who was awarded the MacArthur "Genius Grant" in 2007, said in a statement.
Griffith, founder and chief scientist of the independent research and development lab Otherlab, joined with Alex Laskey, president and founder of the software company Opower, to lauch Rewiring America, which focuses on decarbonization in the U.S. The report, co-authored by Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Sam Calisch, is part of a forthcoming book by Griffith.
"I think the best way to describe what needs to happen politically is we need a president and some level of bipartisanship that will enable FDR levels of urgency in action," Griffith told Fast Company. "And you could use either FDR's response to the Great Depression or to World War II as your measure of that, but I think it's actually more analogous to the World War II effort in terms of the speed of industrialization to win that war."
As Fast Company reported:
The report attempts to make the idea of a Green New Deal more concrete. "I think all of the various Green New Deals and aspirational climate plans are narratively in the right direction, but we need to give them some ground truths and build some reality to them about what needs to happen from the ground up," he says. "Those aspirations are great, but this is actually what you now need to do to get there. I think this is one of the first analyses that really builds out that model from the ground up of what has to happen in order to keep this on target for two degrees."
The changes would also mean lower energy costs for consumers, and the report calculates that the average American household would save between $1,000 and $2,000 a year. Everyday life wouldn't necessarily change significantly. "We now have technologies that are transformative, meaning you can now roughly have the same size and shape car, but electric," Griffith says. "You can have the same size and shape house, but it will be run with electric heat pumps instead of the natural gas furnace. And if we have the sort of that spirit of can-do that America had mid-20th century, there's every reason to believe that our lives improve when we do this, and we can have and live something like the American dream. It'll just be electrified, not fossil-fueled."
Leaders of the Sunrise Movement—a youth climate organization that advocates for the Green New Deal—endorsed the findings of Rewiring America's report, as did Sen. Brian Shatz (D-Hawaii), former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, Niskanen Center director of climate policy Joseph Majku, and Mike Fishman, past secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union and current president of Clean Jobs New York.
"The Rewiring America team asked the question: 'What would happen if we actually tried to transition all of the infrastructure in American society over the next 15 years to stay within the 1.5ºC safe upper limit of global warming?'" said Evan Weber, co-founder and political director of the Sunrise Movement. "The answer they found is that would save consumers and society money, and it would create lots and lots and lots of jobs—around 25 million of them."
The report comes a couple weeks after presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion green energy plan that progressive climate advocates, including Sunrise, welcomed as a "a major step forward." Biden's job-creating plan calls for a power sector free of carbon pollution by 2035.
Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash served on a unity task force launched by Biden and his former primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who won Sunrise's endorsement. She welcomed Biden's recent proposal while also promising that her group will work to ensure he actually delivers on it if he wins.
Prakash also welcomed the analysis Wednesday, noting that "for so long we've been sold the lie that we have to choose between good jobs and a safe environment, that our generation has to choose between a livable planet and a thriving, equitable economy."
"The Rewiring America Plan puts that lie to rest once and for all," she said. "This report is a critical contribution that shows that urgently achieving an all-society clean energy future by 2035 is not only necessary and achievable, but will make the world that young people inherit more prosperous."
"We can achieve a just transition to a better world out of the wreckage of this economic crisis, with good union jobs for all, including low-income communities and communities of color," she added. "The only thing standing in the way is political will."