Uncertainty seemed to be the general theme of the National Biodiesel Board conference this year. “I don’t have the foggiest idea” was former Senator Byron Dorgan’s first response to the question “What is the future of the biodiesel industry?” in the Spotlight on Washington Session. In light of this theme, let’s review the potential for the economy and job creation that comes from a strong US clean technology sector including biofuels like biodiesel. Over the last decade or more the world has embarked on a transition. The science is in – the climate is changing and it’s due to human activity, and it’s happening faster than anyone thought. Those that deny it might also believe the world is flat, but that doesn’t make it so.
California has proven that embracing a carbon economy can lead to greater economic and job growth than the status quo of petroleum based energy. Unemployment in the state has fallen from 12% in 2011 to 5.5% today. California has attracted billions of dollars as well as the brain trust of renewable fuels companies, OEMs seeking the new ‘Detroit’ in autonomous and electric vehicles and advanced biofuels research created with massive investment from industry and academia. In the name of human caused climate change, California and regions across the globe are finding that clean fuel investment, production and consumption are leading to cleaner air, greater self-reliance and reduced costs to consumers.
The new administration appears to deny climate change’s integral connection to human activity. By repudiating this connection, we risk losing our position of leadership and advantage in a sector that will define success in the next century, or more. And we will be handing that leadership advantage over to countries like China, along with all the economic benefits, and jobs, that go along with it. While I am cynical of our ability to transform our economy by embracing the ancient, antiquated and polluting fuels of our past, perhaps the new administration could embrace the jobs, economic prosperity and economic freedom that comes with a US based renewable energy and clean technology industry. . . even if they are not comfortable with proven and basic science principals.
As I’ve pointed out in past articles, there are more Americans employed today in the solar industry than all of oil and gas extraction activities. And almost twice as many folks are installing solar panels in the country than are mining for coal. The U.S. solar industry’s job growth increased 86% in the last five years and employs 174,000 Americans. More than 75,000 Americans work in the wind power industry.
More than 7 million Americans have jobs in the bio-renewables and clean tech sectors. These industries had an estimated total US economic impact of $750 billion in 2016. Clean transportation alternatives were responsible for displacing over 15 billion gallons of petroleum last year (almost all from biofuels), which equates to GHG reductions of somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. But when you add in the non-transportation fossil replacement renewables sector, the CO2 equivalents displaced were over 300 million metric tons, which is equivalent to removing over 63 million passenger vehicles from US roadways each and every year.
Here are a few specific statistics:
According to the USDA, the US Bio-based industry generated $393 billion in revenues and created 4.223 million jobs (1.528 million direct jobs and another 2.695 million indirect jobs). These products displaced up to 7.7 million barrels (~325 million gallons) of petroleum in 2016, which equates to a reduction of up to 11.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents. And this does not even include fuels and energy production!
There were close to 50,000 jobs created in the biodiesel industry with $1.9 billion in wages paid, and $8.4 billion in total US economic impact. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California alone has slashed 16.6 million tons of carbon and avoided more than $1.6 billion in negative public health impacts.
If it’s business, profits, jobs and economic drivers you’re after, the carbon economy is the motivator for innovation for the next 100 years. If America chooses the path of isolationism and ignores real science, the second best choice would be to embrace renewable energy for the US jobs, health and economic benefits. We have always been exceptional. Now is not the time to create uncertainty, but rather eliminate the fog and lead our nation to greater economic and environmental security.