The clean energy American Dream

The clean energy American Dream

Avoiding the most severe climate impacts requires keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground and replacing coal, oil and natural gas with low-carbon energy sources. An energy transition not only protects communities from the threat of climate disruption, it opens the door to new jobs in the clean energy sector. While the economy and jobs consistently rank as higher priorities for most individuals than climate disruption, the issues are intimately linked.

Americans largely agree that policies to protect the environment either improve economic growth or provide new jobs. This is especially true among communities of color, with polls showing that a majority of African-Americans support clean energy and believe renewable energy development will translate into job opportunities. A majority of Latinos agree that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. In California, more than half of Latino voters are interested in growing the state’s solar industry to create new jobs and are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes green economic policies.

Despite the continued partisan rhetoric around climate change, clean energy has broad appeal, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents supporting the development of renewable energy sources. Large majorities of the U.S. public want more emphasis on producing domestic energy using solar and wind power, with solar rising to the top as the runaway favorite energy source across the country. President Obama called attention to distributed solar as something even environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.

The terms “clean energy” and “future” are so routinely paired, it’s critical to break the existing frame and emphasize clean energy is not a daydream or wishful thinking. The clean energy sector is in fact growing at a rapid rate and currently employs more Americans than the real estate and agriculture sectors. In the Midwest alone, clean energy jobs are bringing significant new opportunities to the region and are on track to outpace U.S. employment growth.

2.5 million U.S. clean energy sector workers are installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, and manufacturing electric vehicles. While often less visible, fields in energy efficiency, such as retrofitting buildings, are actually the largest clean energy sector employer. The staggering growth in clean energy jobs is largely being propelled by state energy efficiency and renewable energy standards and federal tax incentives. Transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2050 is estimated to lead to a significant net gain in jobs, with most of the new jobs being high-quality positions in construction, utilities, and manufacturing.

With the squeeze of the middle class, the concept of the American Dream is feeling further from reach for many working Americans. Research shows that the American Dream is perceived as more than accumulation of wealth; it’s about personal freedom, meeting basic needs, and achieving one’s potential. As income disparity in the U.S. continues to expand, Americans are looking for well-paying jobs they can feel proud of to support their families. By tapping into shared American values of innovation, security and economic opportunity, communicators can show how clean energy jobs are filling this gap. At their core, clean energy jobs are local jobs that can’t be outsourced, and unquestionably American.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user dolanh