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Investing in climate solutions: A path to economic growth and environmental sustainability

Joe Curtatone

While the climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our time, it does not register with the average voter, who is reasonably more concerned with being able to put food on the table and raise their family while costs for the basics continue to skyrocket. However, addressing climate change is not just about preserving our environment—it’s about transforming our economy and creating jobs. With the right policies and a commitment from our legislative leadership, we can create thousands of good-paying jobs in infrastructure, manufacturing, and transportation, which benefit communities of color who have been traditionally left behind. If done right, this dual economic and environmental policy approach can usher in a new era of prosperity and sustainability.

One of the most compelling arguments for addressing climate change is the potential for job creation. Transitioning to a climate economy requires a massive overhaul of our infrastructure, from building materials and efficiency to maintaining renewable energy sources like wind, solar, hydroelectric power, and manufacturing.  It involves upgrading our transportation networks to support electric vehicles, public transit, and high-speed rail. It also means retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient and reduce gas and electric bills.

These projects will require a significant workforce. According to the MassCEC, 40,000 jobs will be needed in Massachusetts alone over the next ten years. This presents many opportunities for tradespeople, insulation specialists, engineers, architects, and software professionals in these climate-critical sectors while ensuring that the workforce is diverse and that the Commonwealth has the workforce needed to meet clean energy goals. These jobs offer stable, long-term employment opportunities that can revitalize the communities hardest hit by inflation fluctuation, economic downturns, and COVID-19.

Contrary to the disinformation spread by fossil fuel interests that environmental policies hinder economic growth, the clean energy and climate tech sector is already proving to be a robust engine for job creation. Currently, over 108,450 individuals are employed in the climate economy in Massachusetts. If Governor Maura Healey’s Mass Leads Act bold vision for climate innovation passes the legislature before the end of the session next month, we will see even greater job growth. Her plan involves a strategic investment of $1.3 billion in public funds and tax incentives over the next decade to bolster the climate technology sector. This initiative underscores the state’s commitment to fostering a robust ecosystem of climate innovation, driving economic prosperity, and positioning Massachusetts as a global leader in the field. According to analyses by the Donahue Institute, Governor Healey’s plan has the potential to generate $16.4 billion in economic activity and create 7,000 jobs, highlighting the significant impact of such initiatives on the state’s economy.

This is similar to what Governor Deval Patrick did in Biotech, creating an economic boom. Sadly, that boom left communities of color behind, but we can change that with the climate economy. We must ensure that policies prioritize underserved communities, providing them access to clean energy jobs and addressing environmental health disparities. This also means developing workforce training programs, especially for new and emerging areas of energy technology, to standardize competencies, building awareness starting as early as high school, and a robust apprenticeship system to provide low—to no-cost on-the-job training to equip workers with the skills needed for jobs in the climate economy.

Taking action on climate change goes beyond just economic gains; it also empowers us to confront the impacts of a warming planet that we all feel in our day-to-day lives. We are not the owners of the planet; we are mere borrowers. This viewpoint underscores our duty to be better stewards of our environment. Our choices today will shape the well-being of our children, grandchildren, and all those yet to come. It’s a chance to create a brighter, healthier future for generations to come.

Climate change is already impacting ecosystems and communities nationwide. Challenges such as rising sea levels, more frequent and severe weather events, and prolonged droughts are becoming more prevalent. This is worsened by the fact that communities of color are already experiencing high levels of air pollution due to persistent structural racism. Industrial facilities and highways were purposely built in these areas, resulting in a lack of rail transportation and leading to more bus and car trips, which in turn causes more tailpipe exhaust than in more affluent neighborhoods. These changes disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, contributing to social and economic inequalities.

Implementing sustainable practices and reducing our emissions can help mitigate these effects. However, while individual actions like reducing waste, conserving water, and supporting sustainable products are helpful, they won’t solve the climate crisis on their own. Large-scale policy changes and infrastructure projects are also necessary.

Addressing climate change is an environmental necessity and an economic opportunity. By investing in clean energy, climate tech, and sustainable practices, we can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs, boost economic growth, and ensure a healthier planet for future generations. We don’t have to – and should not – choose between a thriving economy and a sustainable environment—we can achieve both with the right policies and a commitment to innovation and equity. The time to act is now for the benefit of our economy, our communities, and our planet.

Joe Curtatone is president of NECEC.

clean energy, climate crisis, economy, environment, job creation, opinion