Congress is considering a carbon cap-and-trade program that would make fossil fuels more expensive and give renewable energy an advantage. The U.S. is in the middle of a huge transition in where we get energy and how we use it. Some businesses leaders predict these changes will be disastrous for the economy killing jobs and making energy expensive. Lester Graham discussed some of those concerns with Tom Lyon, the Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.
Congress is considering a carbon cap-and-trade program that would make fossil fuels more expensive and give renewable energy an advantage. The U.S. is in the middle of a huge transition in where we get energy and how we use it. Some businesses leaders predict these changes will be disastrous for the economy killing jobs and making energy expensive. Lester Graham discussed some of those concerns with Tom Lyon, the Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise:
“I think it’s important to think about who you’re hearing these things from. Because there are certain industries who are really opposed and scared and they’re making a lot of noise. And it’s essentially the fossil fuel people; it’s the coal industry and then after that, the oil industry. And they have a very special-interest stake in this. So you gotta take what they say with a big grain of salt. Probably electricity prices will increase: not by a lot, not by fifty percent. They’ll go up slightly—depends what kind of region of the country you are in. If you’re in an area dominated by coal-fired power, your costs will go up some because coal is dirty, coal’s been getting a free ride for a long time. The price of coal should go up. If you’re in an area that’s already shifted towards renewables, you’re costs won’t go up much.”
And you mean wind turbines and…
“Wind turbines, hydroelectric power, biomass, solar.”
And what about jobs? Are we going to see this being a job killer?
“It’s going to be a transition device; it’s going to allow us to move towards a 21st century economy. So it’s going to allow us to put people on the ground building wind turbines, installing and maintaining wind turbines, putting in solar cells, and I think there are going to be a lot of jobs in the energy efficiency sector. It’s going to transition our automobile sector towards plug-in electric vehicles and things that might sell in a future economy that’s going to be climate constrained and that’s going to face higher energy prices.”
So it sounds like coal miners should be thinking about job training or retraining.
“Coal miners should definitely be thinking about retraining! You know, that’s just, it’s just an inevitable thing—where the economy is going, retraining is an important thing but this puts us on the right path toward the future.”
Now the President, and some environmentalists, and some leading businesses say, “We’ll be more energy independent, we’ll have clean wind and solar power, we’ll be much more energy efficient because of retrofitting these buildings, we’ll lead the world in renewable, clean energy. How’s that benefit me, at home?
“I think the first thing is, it benefits you because you’re helping to move the planet in the right direction. You’re making the planet a better place for your kids, for your grandkids, and you’re averting the risk that we go over the climate cliff. Because that’s very much a real risk.”
So global warming really is going to be as disastrous as we hear some of the alarmists say.
“It could be. We don’t know for certain. There’s a whole lot of uncertainty around this. However, I think most people who’ve thought about this agree we need to move in the direction of solving the climate problem because the news is always bad. Every new report that comes out of modern science shows the planet’s warming faster than we thought, sea level is rising faster than we thought; the whole thing is moving much more quickly than people thought even five years ago. So there’s no news that’s pointing in the other direction. The urgency just keeps increasing.”
There’s likely to be a huge fight in Washington and Congress is going to be terribly divided on carbon cap-and-trade: what do you think the likely outcome is?
“I think we’re gonna pass something. The Obama folks are very committed; they’ve staffed up with very smart people who understand the issue, who’ve been working on it for years. There’s a lot of political commitment within the congress already and Obama has taken this on as a signature issue.”
Tom Lyon is the Director of the Erb Institute of Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He spoke with The Environment Report’s Lester Graham.