By Will Steger: Published Wednesday, December 10, 2008 MINNEAPOLIS —This past year I had the unique opportunity to return to Ellesmere Island and Greenland in the high Arctic to see firsthand the impacts of global warming and to bring a large online audience of educators, students and media along.
What I found was no surprise: the ice is continuing to melt and the temperatures continue to rise. This summer, two major ice shelves of Ellesmere Island at the northern tip of North America broke up. About half of the summer sea ice on the Arctic Ocean is gone.But climate change isn’t just melting the summer sea ice in the Arctic — it’s being felt right here in Minnesota. We’re seeing changes in vegetation and habitat that threaten to erase our Minnesota treasures and forever alter our important industries like farming, recreation and tourism.
At the same time, we’re feeling the incredible burden of our nation’s economic meltdown.How do we balance investing in climate change solutions and the economy?Fortunately, we don’t have to make that distinction. Our economy’s weakened infrastructure needs an innovative, 21st century solution. That means not just Band-Aids for the current woes but vigorous new investment in new jobs and new sectors.A “green” stimulus package from Congress — one that includes renewable energy development, drives job creation and cuts our climate change pollution — is one of the most comprehensive solutions to our stagnant state.
There is ample evidence that investment in a new green economy will stimulate jobs and the overall economy. This summer, a Department of Energy report found that the U.S. can reliably integrate enough wind power to meet 20 percent of our electricity needs. A goal such as this would result in roughly 500,000 additional jobs from turbine manufacturing, transmission projects and land development.
Another report from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute and the Center for American Progress found that investing in a $100 billion, two-year green economic recovery package would create 300,000 more jobs. These would be good-paying jobs in construction and manufacturing in industries like renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades.President-elect Obama has stated that he believes an investment in clean energy can help our economy recover and help fight climate change. But we need a pledge from him and from Congress to pass a comprehensive plan to spur economic development, strengthen our national security and cut our emissions.
Our own Governor Pawlenty took a step in the right direction with his announcement last week of a “Green Jobs Investment Initiative.”
A green economic plan would satisfy not only the likes of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson but former Vice President Al Gore and even Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, who has been extremely vocal and effective at organizing several members of Congress to pledge to enact an energy plan in the first 100 days of the next administration that cuts our dependence on foreign oil.
But we need more of our leaders to make a commitment.
We’ve wasted enough energy simply talking about energy. This economic crisis adds to the urgency of our environmental crisis and the need for a green economy. This is a perfect storm of events to fight with American know-how and ingenuity.
Our elected officials in Congress must heed the call for a new, clean energy future. It’s one from which we can all prosper.
Will Steger is one of the world’s most famous modern-day explorers, leading expeditions to the polar regions for over 45 years. He established the Will Steger Foundation in 2006 to foster international cooperation and leadership in climate change solutions through exploration, education and action. Learn more at www.willstegerfoundation.org.