We cannot continue to ignore the costs of climate change; doing so would further exacerbate its toll on the Rhode Island economy and compromise the welfare of all Rhode Islanders. We are already paying for the effects of climate change, from flood damage to power outages in our hospitals, and these costs will continue to rise if we choose inaction over action against climate change. There is no question that the state of Rhode Island needs strong climate change legislation to avoid future spending and disasters.
Addressing climate change now is an economic opportunity. The market has failed to account for the true cost of fossil fuels – climate change, pollution, and ecosystem damage – and as a result those fuels appear cheaper than renewable, clean energy like solar power. Continuing as is, we will damage the environment further and fail to reap the benefits from a diversified economy with a thriving alternative energy sector. If we stop ignoring the societal costs of carbon emissions and pollution, solar energy would be cost effective today. It is therefore imperative to pass strong climate change legislation this session so that we can internalize the true costs of climate change, create jobs in the clean energy industry, and develop an economy that is resilient in the face of a changing climate.
The clean energy industry in Rhode Island has only scratched the surface of its full potential. Not only is alternative energy a critical component to fighting climate change, but the development of an industry to generate clean energy serves as a source of job creation and economic growth. Massachusetts has seen upwards of 11 percent growth in the clean energy job sector in the past two years, bringing the total to over 80,000 jobs in the industry. The same sun shines on Rhode Island, yet we trail significantly behind Massachusetts in the development of clean energy such as solar power. The driving factor behind this difference is that Massachusetts is proactively fighting climate change with strong legislation. It is time for us to drop our reactionary strategy and focus on preventative measures as well as proactively adapting our economy to a changing climate and a changing world. Then we can start to reap the economic benefits of promoting clean energy as our neighboring states have done.
Enacting strong climate change legislation makes economic sense. Would you rather invest in solar panels to generate clean electricity, or pay to build retaining walls for our diminishing coastline? We can save money by reducing the costs of climate change while also benefiting from the development of a stronger clean energy sector. The Resilient RI Act for climate change mitigation, S2952 in the Senate and H7904 in the House, will prevent significant damage downstream and is a wiser use of our resources than policies that continue to ignore the costly effects of climate change. This legislation will help our state prepare for the effects of climate change through greenhouse gas reductions as well as adaptive measures. It is therefore absolutely imperative that the state legislature, for the future of both Rhode Island’s environment and economy, pass proactive climate change legislation this session. Waiting will only prove more costly in the future and represent a lost opportunity to diversify and strengthen the state economy.
(Eric Beecher is the founder of Sol Power Solar Installation)