An oil well pumpjack is pictured against the backdrop of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains on June 5, 2020 in Weld County. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Congratulations to John Hickenlooper for his recent election to represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate.  As one of the many people in Colorado and the United States concerned with the increasingly visible effects of climate change, I welcome his expertise. 

As a geologist, Hickenlooper understands the science and the urgency to transition to a 100% renewable-energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. I am thrilled he supports a job-creating plan for the U.S. that includes government-funded climate technology research, reinventing America’s transportation system, increased energy efficiency, and job training for people transitioning out of the fossil-fuel industry into green jobs.

Some worry that a transition away from fossil fuels could kill jobs. However, cutting fossil-fuel emissions actually puts more people to work, at comparable wages, than business as usual. 

Susan Atkinson

For example, coal-industry employment has been shrinking for years, mainly because of mechanization, not regulation. In 1980, producing 100 tons of coal per hour required 52 miners; by 2015 that number dropped to 16. Even though more coal was being mined, coal mining lost 58% of its jobs between 1980 and 2015

In 2018, there were 2.4 million jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared to half that number in fossil energy. The number of installers and service technicians for solar and wind is forecast to grow 11 to 13 times faster than the U.S. average.  

Also, the vast majority of energy-sector jobs, including electricians, power plant operators, riggers, etc., are needed for both fossil and non-fossil energy. We also need more clean storage, clean fuels, and clean vehicles. 

With fossil-fuel jobs disappearing and clean energy jobs increasing more and more, the argument that “transitioning away from fossil fuels will tank the economy” simply does not make sense.

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Our country will still need energy, whether it comes from low- or zero-carbon sources or from the old polluting sources of the past. The energy technologies on the horizon will create more well-paying jobs per energy dollar spent, and will continue to do so even as the new technologies are put in place. 

Not only is renewable electricity already cost-competitive with fossil-generated power in many locations, it provides 50% more jobs, at similar pay, for the same amount of energy.

Creation of good-quality jobs is of critical importance to our country, especially now in a time of high unemployment.   We also need to address the escalating threat of climate change. 

The high costs of damage from climate-related disasters (increased hurricanes, drought, wildfires, flooding, and sea-level rise) are not sustainable. In 2017, extreme weather events cost the U.S. a jaw-dropping $306 billion. Extreme, unseasonable weather harms our crops and livestock. 

The next Congress will be presented with a critical opportunity for bipartisan climate legislation. This juncture in history can accomplish a solution for both job creation and climate change.

As an experienced politician, Hickenlooper understands that ambitious transitions are expedited by smart policy. He supports implementing a carbon-dividend plan that accounts for the hidden costs of greenhouse gasses that result from burning fossil fuels. 

Placing a fee on carbon pollution provides necessary market incentives to quickly lower carbon emissions without using government regulation. These market incentives stimulate invention and investment to cut carbon in myriad ways. Scientists and economists alike say it’s the best first step to reduce the impact of global warming.

A carbon dividend plan starts with a carbon fee placed on coal, oil, or natural gas as it enters the U.S. economy. All of the money generated by the plan is recycled to American residents in equal monthly carbon dividends, helping consumers adapt while businesses compete to reduce their carbon footprints. 

Consumers can use the dividends to help them transition to a world of clean, energy-efficient goods and services. The dividend payment more than offsets any potential increase in energy costs to low and middle income families.

A carbon border fee adjustment could be placed on emissions-intensive goods that are imported or exported. This discourages businesses from relocating to where they can pollute more, and also encourages other nations to price carbon.

By lowering carbon pollution, we can create jobs, reduce the cost of climate-related disasters and advance economic growth. With Hickenlooper’s leadership we can accelerate the shift toward a clean energy economy for all.   

Susan Atkinson of Durango is a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on national policies to address climate change.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay was updated Dec. 2 at 12:18 p.m. to correct a factual statement about fossil-fuel employment.

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Susan Atkinson lives in Durango.