The pandemic could point us towards a sustainable and resilient future
The blow from the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for American businesses and workers. While the full impact may not be achieved for months, if not years, it is evident that bold and innovative programs will be needed to revive the US economic engine. One of the most effective ways to jumpstart our economy as we emerge from the deadly virus stranglehold will be to create jobs and competitiveness in the clean energy economy to protect our future against the climate.
To achieve this goal, we urge Congress to establish a “Citizens Energy & Environmental Corps” (CEEC) to put Americans back to work and build a clean, sustainable and resilient energy future.
Our nation is immediately focused on protecting the health of our citizens. To curb the spread of the disease, we have made countless changes in our behavior, which have had the side effect of drastically reducing our use of climate-polluting fossil fuels. Demand for energy collapsed as we squat down in our homes and communities, and petroleum and petroleum products remain in surplus, with most of the world’s strategic oil reserves nearly full. Unsurprisingly, carbon emissions have declined and the planet, at least temporarily, is healing itself.
When economic activity rebounds, we have an extraordinary opportunity to choose a new path of growth, a path of sustainability and resilience. This will take a concerted effort, lest we fall into the trap of giving up our old habits of heavy reliance on carbon-emitting energy sources. Indeed, we are already seeing a past behavioral defect in China, where the increasing pollution of this country is a sign that the economy is starts to bounce.
An important lesson we can learn from the pandemic is to think more strategically about future and predictable crises. We know that a the climate crisis is looming, and we can prepare now by putting America to work for our low-carbon energy future. This will require balancing the economic recovery with structural changes that promote sustainable, low-carbon US energy security.
This effort will require jujutsu – the Japanese martial art of using an opponent’s momentum to your advantage. In this case, the adversary is the coronavirus and the advantage we seek is a healthier and economically sustainable society.
Subsequent Federal the stimulus invoices could provide vehicles for advanced political jujutsu in energy and water technology. Among the US national infrastructure most in need of repair is our power grids that transport energy to factories, businesses and households. The sources of this energy, as well as our water and wastewater treatment plants, are aging and failing. Just look Flint, Michigan.
With the right infrastructure investments in clean energy research, development and manufacturing, we can make a technological leap towards sustainable sources such as solar, wind, hydro, biofuels and nuclear. We are currently invest half of what we did in the 1970s in advanced energy and water technologies. Just as the United States used the defense production necessary for World War II to become the engine of postwar economic growth, the United States can use future stimulus packages to advance the economy. jobs and US competitiveness in clean energy technologies.
Restoring US leadership in clean energy will require a skilled workforce. Here too we have an opportunity due to the significant job losses caused by COVID-19. Let us seize this moment and once again train our ready, willing and capable workers in advanced clean energy technology and put them to work to rebuild our economy. Critical infrastructure such as power generation; coupling energy networks with artificial intelligence and big data; transport, distribution, storage; and energy efficiency are just a few of the advanced energy growth areas teeming with high-paying jobs for Americans eager to learn new skills.
Americans got back to work in the 1930s thanks to ambitious New offer programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration, which built some of our most critical infrastructure of this era, including projects led by the Tennessee Valley Authority, such as a series of dams and aqueducts created to provide electricity and prevent flooding. From now on, the CEEC that we are proposing would be dedicated to the construction of the energy and hydraulic infrastructures that we need for the 21st century: solar highways, “smart” networks, water supply networks resistant to floods, and so on.
The CEECs would advance employment, American competitiveness and build a future resilient to climate threats. Its workforce must be diverse, including veterans in transition, former coal miners, jobless savages, steel workers, young and restless looking for their future, and others who want to be part of a movement bigger than them.
A generation of Americans are challenged like never before. But we must face adversity with a spirit of innovation that propels us forward. We may one day view the 2020 pandemic as a terrible and tragic crisis that has sparked a movement towards a sustainable and resilient future.
Sherri Goodman was the first Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security and Founder and Executive Director of the CNA Military Advisory Board. She sits on the boards of the Atlantic Council and the Center for Climate & Security.
Greg Douquet is a former Marine Corps Colonel, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Red Duke Strategies LLC, and Co-Director of the Veterans Advanced Energy Project at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center.