What We Want: A Just Transition to Clean Energy
Every person and every community has a right to breathe clean air, live free from the threat of toxic pollution, access healthy food, and be part of the prosperous clean energy economy of tomorrow.
You agree, right?
We thought you might.
The path to that better future is in sight, too – but in this instance, the journey is as important as the destination.
That’s why, when we say we want a “just transition” to clean energy, it’s vital to know exactly what we’re talking about.
Luckily, the pitch is simple: We want a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable, and just. It’s the getting there that’s going to take some work – and we need you with us, every step of the way.
A just transition isn’t just about energy itself. It’s about equity. It’s about power. It’s about community. It is about building a bigger, broader climate movement.
And in this moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic pulling the curtain even further back on systemically racist policies and disparate medical treatment, it’s about creating a new, better way forward for all of us.
With a new president and a new Congress, we have the chance to think big and act boldly. To confront the climate crisis threatening all of our futures. To get workers and families devastated by the pandemic back on their feet. To finally face the racial injustice destroying dreams and lives across the country.
But it’s not going to happen on its own. A just transition to a better, more sustainable tomorrow for all is going to take all of us.
For decades, the climate movement has, to some extent, prescribed action from above, advocating for what’s right for communities that many activists themselves were not a part of.
The intentions were nothing but good, of course – but at the same time, not enough climate activists were asking themselves what qualified them to dictate the best interests of persons and communities with whom they shared little life experience.
That’s why, for our transition to a renewable energy economy to be truly just, we must advance solutions that meaningfully involve and value the voices, lived experience, and positions of frontline and fenceline communities.
Who better than the impacted persons and communities themselves to determine the right path for action that will affect them directly?
Clean Electricity is Key
The transition to a just, inclusive, and climate-sustainable economy will create millions of well-paying and safe jobs while improving public health outcomes for all – starting with those most immediately in need of them.
It’s no secret that low-income households and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are more likely than more-affluent and whiter communities to live in proximity to polluting industries like oil refineries, coal-fired power plants, and pipeline infrastructure, leading to greater exposure to pollution from burning fossil fuels and chemicals leaching into the water table.
So what do we do about it?
We push for 100 percent clean, renewable electricity by 2035 for the whole country.
And how do we do that?
We advocate loudly for a national Clean Energy Standard (CES), as well as expanded energy storage tax credits, which are essential to building a reliable, efficient, and sustainable electrical grid powered by renewables.
A national CES would require utilities to gradually increase the share of renewable and carbon pollution-free electricity in their energy mix, ideally until they reach 100 percent clean electricity – and if we have any shot at keeping temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, as targeted in the Paris Agreement, we need to get there by 2035.
Beyond the electricity sector itself, transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity is essential to decarbonization across our entire economy, according to Vox:
Clean electricity is the backbone of the energy transition — the critical piece that all the other sectors will slot into. Not only will getting to 100 percent clean electricity directly cut more than a quarter of US carbon pollution, it will also enable large parts of our transportation, building, and industrial sectors to run on clean power. Powering as much of these sectors as we can with carbon-free electricity would allow us to cut US emissions 70 to 80 percent. It would, in short, solve a huge chunk of our climate challenge.
Good Jobs – and Lots of Them
Here’s the best part: With a just transition, everybody wins.
A just transition to clean energy economy will make communities everywhere healthier and less polluted. And very importantly, it will bring new opportunities to both cities and rural areas.
At a time when millions are unemployed or underemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a just transition could help create millions of great jobs in numerous industries, both new and old.
For this to happen, however, major changes at the federal level will be required.
To be clear, this is a war we’re already winning – presently, “1 in 3 Americans lives in a city or state that has committed to, or achieved, 100% clean electricity,” according to researchers at UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation.
But this progress has also been piecemeal and entirely undertaken at either the state or local levels. We know that to change everything, we need everyone – and that means broad, bold action at the national level to create the change we need.
To effectively address climate change and create all of those jobs in the process will require an act of Congress.
President Biden has been working to use the executive powers of his office to do what he can to move the needle on climate, and his words and actions are already creating real change. But we all know who has the “power of the purse.”
And there’s no getting around it: The changes we’re talking about here are an investment. In infrastructure. In communities. In new technologies. In efficiency measures. And so much more.
But the investment we’re talking here – in a safe, healthy, sustainable, and just future – is also one that could pay impressive dividends for Americans of every social class, color, gender, and creed. It has the potential to lift us all up together.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how many jobs would be created through the passage of a major climate plan by Congress – particularly in this moment of national health emergency – the plan President Biden has put forth suggests as many as 10 million jobs could be created.
These jobs would touch every sector of the economy. The clean, green economy of tomorrow isn’t just about solar panels and wind turbines (though, as a reminder, the first and third fastest-growing jobs in the US right now are in these fields).
It’s about electric vehicles, and the electrical engineers, chemists, metal workers, and mechanics needed to build and repair them. It’s about HVAC systems, and all of those needed to update the old and install the new. It’s about insulation and efficiency. Improved public transportation. New ways of farming. And so much more.
Indeed, the Brookings Institution reports that a clean energy economy will primarily involve 320 unique occupations in three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.
The bottom line is that jobs are a key feature in the shift toward a cleaner, more-equitable economy and a greener future – and we’ve never had a more opportune moment to make them a reality than this one. Right now.
What You Can Do
This is our climate moment. Our chance to end the climate crisis and build a healthy and just nation for all. We can’t afford to waste it.
It starts with the Biden Administration and Congress seizing the opportunity in front of them and rising to the challenge.
Together, we can build pressure on federal officials to take bold climate action and make sure all of our voices are heard in demanding a cleaner, greener, more-just future.
Are you ready to join the fight for a better tomorrow?
It starts with joining your local Climate Reality chapter.
Across the country, everyday Americans are joining Climate Reality chapters and working together for practical climate solutions in communities from sea to shining sea. These friends, neighbors, and colleagues are making a real difference for our climate when it matters – and you can too.