The Winning Equation on Climate and Jobs in California

Derek Walker.jpgAs the old saying goes, comparisons are odious, and when it comes to policies to combat climate change, we want every state in this country—and every country in the world—to take action. But sometimes a comparison between two states can help illuminate the benefits of taking one course of action over another, especially as it relates to the all-important issue of creating a strong economy.

Recently, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released revised job growth numbers for all states. Previously, the numbers released in December 2014 showed Texas ahead of California on job growth for the year—458,000 to 320,000—but the revised estimates indicate that California added 498,000 jobs in 2014, with Texas coming in at 393,000. In other words, California added almost half a million jobs in 2014, showing that Texas is not the only state that can do things on a big scale.

So what do these job growth numbers have to do with the fight against climate change? California is seeing their job numbers tick up as the state takes the lead on tackling harmful greenhouse gas emissions through an astonishingly ambitious array of policies. The state’s policies cover everything from squeezing as much carbon from the state’s economy as possible to ensuring that we find clean energy solutions to keep the lights on, so to speak. Although environmental leadership seems to be an integral part of the state’s DNA, the game really changed with California’s 2006 law limiting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The state’s law ushered in a succession of effective measures, including the state’s cap-and-trade program and Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which are cutting pollution and helping the economy.

Against such a backdrop of success, it’s easy to forget that advocates for these policies have encountered their fair share of opposition. And the number one argument against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has always been that these policies will hurt economic growth. And yet….and yet…California’s experiences, reinforced by these recent job growth numbers, demonstrate that the opposite may be the truth. EDF’s recent report on California’s cap-and-trade program showed that the program is succeeding at decreasing emissions from entities covered by the cap—by almost 4% in 2013. Moreover, we looked at numerous indicators to see how the state’s economy was doing while cap-and-trade was taking off, and our conclusion? Good, and getting better. The state’s GDP grew by over 2% in 2013, and overall job growth outpaced the national numbers.

We are also seeing evidence that much of California’s robust job growth is happening because of – rather than despite – the state’s commitment to climate change. Between 2002 and 2012, California’s clean energy jobs grew ten times as quickly as jobs in the overall economic sector. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is predicting slower job growth in Texas, in part due to declines in the oil and gas industry.

To be clear: we would like to see every state experience a thriving job market. But we’d prefer the scenario where jobs grow as part of a transition to a robust, clean energy, low-carbon economy. Americans are already being harmed by the effects of climate change, and the urgency to take action is growing by the day. Jobs and economic opportunity are two of many reasons to take bold steps to cut pollution. What’s more, public support for taking action is growing, bolstered by increased evidence of climate impacts right in our backyards. And California is showing how to reduce fossil fuel dependence and grow clean energy jobs at the same time. With its think-big reputation and fearlessness, Texas should certainly consider following suit.

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