Alex Wecht ’24
On Wednesday, Mar. 31, President Biden visited Pittsburgh, PA where he unveiled his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal titled the “American Jobs Plan.” The project is ambitious, aiming to spearhead climate change while simultaneously creating jobs.
Unfortunately, Biden’s proposal already faces extensive blowback. The main roadblock lies in the view, shared widely among politicians and the citizenry at large, that it’s a choice between jobs and the environment: the idea that we can have one but not the other. The thinking is that, if we move to sustainable practices, our economy will crash. This is a misconception that has impaired progress toward sustainable practices and has delayed our nation’s transformation to a clean energy paradigm.
Understandably, local economies with thousands of workers dependent on the fossil fuel industry find it especially hard to support a transition to clean energy. Anyone would be skeptical, to say the least, if told his or her job might be eliminated, but our current circumstances and our future prospects both suggest a serious change is coming regardless—and change is bound to spawn many new and exciting livelihoods. Electric power. Wind power. Solar power. New and improved robotics. Industrialization of drones. Change is coming, whether we like it or not. We need to learn and train to grow as the future demands. Though many of us see this as a no-brainer, we need to remember that fossil fuel dependency is a longstanding habit and that old habits die hard. We all want a fighting chance against climate change, and we can all make a living in a world of clean energy.
Powerful people, and the nature of our political system, make it seem as though sufficient progress is impossible to come by in America. Take President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic aid plan as a prime example. A bill that passed in a 50-49 vote, during one of the longest debates in modern Senate history—ringing in at 27 hours to be precise. This aid plan addressed an issue that should not be politically polarized, at least to the degree that Congress made it. Looking at how Congress handled that bill, the prospect of President Biden’s historically unprecedented climate change investment gaining legislative approval seems uncertain.
There are a variety of beneficiaries of the fossil fuel industry, and they have pushed back against the frightening climate science realities that confront us. This includes the large number of politicians, especially members of Congress, that are lobbied by the fossil fuel industry, thereby making it nearly impossible to pass “green” bills. This push-back needs to be halted. Fossil fuel advocates need to understand and act on the fact that their children’s lives depend on them changing their shortsighted ways.
One labor leader worried over the difficulties of retraining fossil fuel union workers to work in clean energy questioned Biden’s plan by inquiring: “Would you ask Tom Brady to play linebacker just because he’s a football player?” I think this is the wrong question. This is not about the livelihood of one football player, or even one football team, it’s about our entire nation and its future. I understand how union leaders and workers feel; they are entitled to assistance and security as they transition from jobs in the fossil fuel industry toward new opportunities. Indeed, President Biden’s plan includes $16 billion to aid this transition, an important feature of the overall initiative.
Nonetheless, the American Jobs Plan holds its title for a reason. President Biden plans for hundreds of thousands of union jobs to be created, specifically in the fields of sustainable energy (wind and solar, as primary examples), sustainable transport in all of its facets, and construction of roads and bridges (which will foster resiliency in a time of changing climate).
More blowback to the energy transition—which should be positive news—includes proof that clean energy is more efficient. Experts have stated that it takes far fewer workers to build electric cars. While it takes a few hundred workers to operate a nuclear or coal plant, it takes less than ten to operate a wind farm, and just about zero to operate a solar farm. Think about that. This highlights the inefficiency and stupidity of the American economy. We could be using clean energy with less human input. This would not only save our planet; it would also incentivize better and more focused education for more Americans. This would mean better educated and healthier people, on top of a more promising future for our nation and our world.
The transition away from fossil fuels doesn’t decrease the number of blue-collar jobs as much as detractors claim. In fact, the traditional infrastructure investments that are included in Biden’s bill would create massive amounts of union jobs. Though clean energy may not provide a number of job and wealth opportunities equivalent to those offered by fossil fuels right off the bat, it would provide hundreds of thousands of solid union jobs over the long term, on top of the huge benefits that sustainable energy would provide. This is a necessary change, and one that we will have to accept. We must take the bitter with the sweet. I am thrilled that an American president, for the first time, has invested so generously in climate change.
Four years ago, Donald Trump proclaimed in a statement regarding the United States departure from the Paris Climate Accords, “I was elected President to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Well Mr. Trump, as a Pittsburgher myself, I can tell you that we support the development of clean energy; in fact, if you visit our Steel City, you might notice that we are a leader in eds-and-meds and have changed quite a bit since the 40s.
President Biden’s plan makes sense. It makes sense environmentally, and it makes sense for job proliferation. It is a question of whether our nation will unite behind it instead of crying over spilled milk (if the plan passes Congress, that is). This is what dealing with climate change looks like. It’s not pretty, and it is going to get uglier, especially if we don’t adjust. Biden’s plan, although ambitious, is modest when we consider just how much our lives are going to have to change over the course of the next hundred years. As Americans, I would ask that we stop thinking of sustainable energy as the adversary of jobs. It is important that we come together, support the workers who will be affected most, and start our journey to a sustainable nation.