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Amid all the news reports about failed financial gadgets like credit-default swaps and mortgage-backed securities, you'll find an occasional story that reveals the human face of this recession.
Here's one example from Stark County, Ohio - almost 700 people recently lined up to apply for a job as a junior high school janitor. Officials in Stark County were surprised that so many seasoned workers, including people in their late 40s and 50s, were vying for a $15-an-hour job with little room for professional growth or promotion. But in a county with more than 10 percent unemployment, the job hunters had few other options.
Ironically, while those 700 people were standing on line for a single job, few people were paying attention to a company a stone's throw away that could soon be providing job hunters with a lot more options. 3-D Service, in Massillon, Ohio, does repair work and maintenance on wind turbine power systems and components. It's one of hundreds of companies across Ohio, and thousands across America, that are part of the "new energy future" that President Obama and major business leaders keep talking about. These companies are poised for rapid growth - if America passes a federal law to cap global warming pollution, a move that will reinvent our energy supply and create new businesses to cater to it.
A carbon cap will spur development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, as well as new technology to clean or conserve the energy we have now. Manufacturing states in the Midwest and South will see some of the biggest benefits of a carbon cap, because the new businesses will all need newly built parts. A single wind turbine requires 8,000 different parts, for example. Those parts - from bolts, copper wiring and ball bearings to steel towers and blades - can most efficiently be manufactured by American factories that will only need minor renovations to handle the job.
LessCarbonMoreJobs.org is a new Web site that maps potential job growth from a carbon cap. It shows that more than 1,200 companies in 12 states are poised to grow. New companies are being added daily as the new future of jobs becomes clearer. And more states will be added soon. Other companies on the list make energy-efficient building materials, windows and appliances; they create soy-based diesel fuel; they build bolts for wind turbines or manufacture solar film. These are real companies that are already up and running, but the flood of private investment that a cap on carbon emissions will unleash will allow these companies to grow - and will help launch many more companies like them.
Not surprisingly, longtime opponents of taking action against global warming argue that a cap will hurt traditional businesses and could raise power bills for consumers. Not surprisingly, they never mention the benefits of a carbon cap, or the costs of doing nothing and suffering the severe damage caused by climate change. They also use some very unreliable figures to scare the public. Actually, estimates based on Department of Energy data indicate a cap on carbon pollution will cost just ten cents a day on the average American household's utility bills.
Developing renewable energy is a core driver for rebuilding our economy. The United States has a chance to launch an entirely new industry. We can create new technologies that we can export to countries like China and India for a change, and we can create thousands of new jobs in the process. While we're at it, we can make America energy independent, clean up our air and water, and stop global warming.
You'll hear opponents of climate change legislation talk about the "burden" that capping carbon will place on our economy. However, they won't talk about the burden that 10-percent-plus unemployment puts on our communities, or the burden that standing on line with 700 other job applicants puts on individuals. Clinging to the status quo won't get us out of this recession. A new energy economy is our best chance for a better future, and we can't afford not to take this opportunity. We need Congress to pass a cap on carbon.
David Yarnold is executive director of Environmental Defense Fund, which is also the founding partner of the LessCarbonMoreJobs Web site. He can be reached at dyarnoldedf.org.