In NC, Economic Costs of Climate Change — And Economic Benefits of Clean Energy — Hit Home

I lived in North Carolina from the second grade until I graduated from college in 1988. During those 16+ years, only one major hurricane made landfall there, Hurricane Diana in 1984.

In the past three years, the state has experienced four of the most powerful hurricanes ever, beginning with Matthew in 2016 and most recently, Dorian. One year ago this month, Hurricane Florence caused more than $17 billion damage in North Carolina, followed just weeks later by a downgraded Michael and $22 million more in damage.

North Carolinians are beginning to realize that climate change is no longer just an environmental issue, but also an economic issue. As Gov. Roy Cooper told Congress in February, “just like many places in our country and across the globe, we’re beginning to feel the harsh effects of climate change on our communities and our economy.”

Those harsh effects are adding up. Damage from Florence included $3.6 billion to taxpayer-owned buildings at Camp Lejeune; $11 billion in damage to other homes and businesses and $2.4 billion in agriculture losses at farms big and small.

“You lose crops that are seeded, and the crops that are already growing and just getting to maturity rot, and you lose that as well,” Kristin Bulpitt, founder of Copeland Springs Farm in Pittsboro explained in a video my organization just produced. “You can’t recover very quickly.”

Good news is, with the right policies, we can help offset the economic costs of climate change with economic benefits that come from smart climate and clean energy policies. North Carolina is a prime example of this too.

Today, about 111,000 North Carolinians work in clean energy. The state is №2 in the country for solar installations. Those jobs and investments are directly tied to the foresight N.C. lawmakers had in 2007 to pass the Southeast’s only renewable energy portfolio standard, requiring utilities to get a portion of its electricity from solar and wind.

Clean energy has become so important to the state’s economy that Gov. Cooper just proclaimed Sept. 22–28 “Clean Energy Week.”

Now, North Carolina has the opportunity to enact other policies to keep those jobs and investments growing while also combatting climate change.

By Oct. 1, the Department of Environmental Quality must finalize a Clean Energy Plan setting a path to implement Gov. Cooper’s landmark executive order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also increasing jobs and economic growth in the state.

The early version of DEQ’s Clean Energy Plan is thorough and smart. But as currently drafted, it relies too much on the state legislature, which has proven itself unpredictable, hostile to clean energy and prone to inaction. And fact is, we don’t have any time left to waste.

Instead, Gov. Cooper should turn to executive branch agencies and the state’s environmental management and utilities commissions to carry out the recommendations of NCDEQ.

He should use the power of his office to decisively and quickly expand offshore wind, improve building efficiency standards and make it easier for North Carolinians to buy and own electric vehicles — all issues the legislature has wasted too much time debating for too many years.

As North Carolina marks the anniversary of Florence and its first “Clean Energy Week,” the United Nations is convening its Climate Action Summit in New York amid pleas and protests demanding our leaders to do more on clean energy and climate change.

In North Carolina and the world, it’s clear: The time for action is now.

  • Bob Keefe is executive director of E2, a national, nonpartisan group of businesspeople who advocate for policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment. He grew up near Raleigh, N.C.

In NC, Economic Impacts of Climate Change Hit Home was originally published in e2org on Medium.