Wildfires among the dangers of doing nothing on California’s climate goals

Powering the Bottom Line

Doron Amiran (doron@theclimatecenter.org) is program manager at The Climate Center.

Read past columns: nbbj.news/powering

To achieve the goals of Climate Safe California, massive investments are required. The transition to a 21st century energy economy is a heavy lift, to be sure, but the price of inaction will be much higher.

The clean energy future is not going to magically appear. So when considering building out a resilient and carbon-free energy system, and a modern clean transportation infrastructure, the question arises: where is the money going to come from?

The stark reality is that inaction on climate is already costing us billions of dollars. We can bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem solves itself, but as is becoming increasingly clear, that is the road to ruin.

In 2018 alone, homeowners and businesses suffered damages in excess of $150 billion in California and beyond due to climate-stoked wildfires. And the costs of the biggest fire season on record, which we all just went through, have not even been calculated yet, and will undoubtedly be even more immense.

As Ellie Cohen, CEO of The Climate Center, puts it: "The true costs of the 2018, 2019 and 2020 wildfires are staggering in terms of health and the economy. California clearly needs to make major investments now to save lives and money down the road."

Experts point out that unmitigated climate change threatens U.S. financial markets including insurance and mortgage markets, pension funds,and other financial institutions. On a national scale, experts estimate that damages from delayed GHG reductions in the US now cost approximately $600 billion per year.

To build the clean energy economy, and avoid the immense costs of inaction, we need to invest massively now. This will require both public and private investments.

As Mike Lemyre, senior vice president at Ygrene Energy Fund says: “The transition to a 21st century energy economy will require everyone – governments, businesses, individuals and the like – to do their part. While it may be relatively easy or affordable for some to purchase an electric vehicle or install a rooftop solar system, these and many other much smaller investments are beyond the reach of many. We have to not only focus on how much money is needed and from where it will come, but also ensure broad access to affordable financing for all if we are to reach our collective goals.”

Lemyre points to the importance of creative financing to reduce inequality: “If the ideas and initiatives, the tools and resources, are entirely or predominantly focused on improvements that only the wealthy can afford to adopt, then we will not only fall short of our collective goals, but we will also fail many of those who do with less yet have the same desire to leave the planet a better place.”

The Climate Center is recommending a variety of funding mechanisms, including - but not limited to - bonds.

We need to charge for the things we want to reduce, so we can fund the things we need to increase. For example, a small surcharge on each flight emanating from California airports could raise billions, which could be invested in battery storage, EV charging infrastructure, and other critical infrastructure needs.

The good news is that the economic upside is immense. It is much cheaper to address climate change now than later. By investing in reversing the climate crisis today, we can save lives, protect real estate values, and prevent decline of capital markets, the collapse of agriculture, the global spread of climate refugees and the loss of ecosystems that sustain life.

California has the opportunity to cement its economic leadership in the world, and enhance its global business competitiveness by leading in the creation of goods and services needed to decarbonize the economy. Investments in green tech will spur innovation, lead to the birth of new companies, and the creation of millions of new jobs.

And a resilient energy system, designed around local power, and backed up by clean battery systems, will mean less downtime because of planned or unplanned power outages, which will be an economic boon to local business both large and small.

Less dependence on energy imports also enhances our national security, and can reduce our massive national annual expense of policing the oil-producing regions of the globe. This would free up massive amounts of capital that could be invested in long-term energy security in the form of clean, renewable energy infrastructure.

A clean economy will also lead to better health for our citizens, which will result in massive financial savings, and a better quality of life for us all.

When you tally all the benefits, it becomes clear that the time is now to invest in our climate future.

Whereas the do-nothing approach carries a massive price tag in the form of reduced ecosystem health, lower crop yields, and the ravages of fires, floods and hurricanes, the returns on our investment in a Climate Safe future will be huge.

To find out more about Climate Safe California, and how you can get involved, please go to theclimatecenter.org.

Powering the Bottom Line

Doron Amiran (doron@theclimatecenter.org) is program manager at The Climate Center.

Read past columns: nbbj.news/powering

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