Empowering American labor: A clean energy revolution to combat climate change

The recent winter weather events served as a stark preview of the challenges we can anticipate in a changing climate. From the bitter cold snaps that gripped the U.S., exacerbating respiratory issues, to the unprecedented snowstorms and freezing conditions, Mother Nature’s impact during the winter months was particularly harsh.

Amidst this winter challenge, it is crucial to acknowledge that climate change is not confined to summer concerns. Winter brings its own set of issues, especially for those with respiratory illnesses. A warming planet leads to more extreme and unpredictable weather patterns and can affect air quality, making breathing difficult, especially for individuals with preexisting conditions, during the winter months.

While the winter weather events cannot be directly attributed to climate change, they align with predictions of increasingly severe weather caused by a warming climate. The science is clear and consistent — as the planet warms because of the unmitigated release of greenhouse gases, we will see more and more extreme weather events. The effects of climate change will cause billions of dollars in direct damage, take countless lives and completely redraw maps as sea levels rise and currently populated areas become uninhabitable.

Faced with this challenge, some people will throw their hands up, and say there is nothing we can actually do, and we must just live with the new normal, while others will call for unrealistic policies that would significantly harm the quality of life or cost an unreasonable amount of money. Neither of these options is acceptable, but there is one that is — put the hardworking, skilled American labor force to work.

With every major problem comes a major opportunity, and climate change is no different. Right now, we are on the precipice of a clean energy revolution in this country, and we once again have the opportunity to be international leaders in developing, investing in and building power generation that provides for all our energy needs while reducing our emissions. This is not pie-in-the-sky idealism, but what we can do when we invest in technology like offshore wind, solar and other carbon-free power generation, and put the best trained, most capable laborers in the history of mankind in charge of making sure it gets built.

Investments in technologies such as offshore wind and solar, coupled with the expertise of union workers, can drive this revolution. Union workers build and maintain the critical infrastructure we use every day, educate our children, manufacture the best products in the world, ensure delivery of goods, are first responders and so much more. Our brothers and sisters in labor are willing and able to do almost any job imaginable, and that is why they will help lead us in the fight against climate change.

Americans never back away from a challenge, and climate change may be the biggest, most far-reaching challenge we have ever seen. We cannot shy away. We have a workforce that is ready to go today, and also ready to train future workers who will earn good, family-sustaining wages, all while doing work critical to this fight. Like any big challenge, we are not going to solve this overnight, and anyone who promises an easy, fast solution is trying to sell you snake oil. We will have to put in the work, but our union brothers and sisters have never been afraid of hard work.

Investing in clean energy, such as offshore wind, solar and other carbon-free power generation, goes beyond addressing the climate crisis and preventing future extreme weather events; it signifies a direct investment in American workers. For so much of our history, labor has had to fight for the dignity that all people deserve. Now, it’s time to take that fighting attitude to something that threatens us all and ensure our children inherit a world where they can proudly say, “My parents helped build that.” It’s a call to action for a collective effort that not only secures the planet’s well-being, but paves the way for a legacy of pride and accomplishment for American workers.

William Sproule is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters; Debra Coyle is executive director of the New Jersey Work Environment Council and co-coordinator of Jersey Renews.