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Fighting Climate Change Is Not Hurting CA Economy — It’s Helping

Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

Despite predictions that California's climate change policies would destroy its economy, recent data seems to show that the opposite is happening.

Derek Walker, writing for the Environmental Defense Fund, points out that recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) not only show strong job growth in California, but that clean energy jobs are growing even faster than other sectors.

California, according to the BLS, added almost half a million jobs in 2014. This happened at the same time that the state has put into effect a wide range of policies to fight climate change, including placing a legal cap on greenhouse gas emissions and making industries pay for the emissions they produce.

According to Walker:

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... 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.

Unpacking the numbers is a big task, and there are a lot of factors at play. California's economy has been growing for a while, and although its unemployment rate has been improving, it's still one of the highest in the nation. Also, climate change policies, including cap-and-trade, are relatively recent. But these latest numbers do seem to show that those policies aren't slowing down the California economy--which is larger by far than any other state in the US.

Job growth and growth in GDP are two indicators of economic health. “A third one, which has salience to political leaders,” said Walker, “is that California has received more investment in clean energy [industries] than any other state." Make that more than all the other states combined, according to the CleanTech Group.

Not only that, but early indications are that the climate change policies are succeeding in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

From the EDF report on cap-and-trade [PDF]:

Companies covered under California’s cap‑and‑trade program reduced their 2013 emissions by 3.8 percent, or about 5.53 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e), a level that is 11 percent below the 2013 cap.

The data, which includes a minute increase in emissions not covered by cap-and-trade, suggests companies are responding to the price on carbon by taking steps to utilize clean energy and energy efficiency.

There are a lot of solid reasons to pursue climate change policy. Obvious benefits include fighting climate change, reducing energy use, savings on fuel bills, and cleaner air. It looks like economic growth should have a prominent place on that list.

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For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

Disclosure: Derek Walker was once the supervisor to Streetsblog L.A. editor Damien Newton in the re-election campaign of Maryland U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski in 1998.

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