Failures should outnumber successes, as in any sound early-stage investment portfolio. But just a handful of big wins can deliver potentially incalculable value to our economy and planet. Which brings us to our final point.
We should base investment decisions on net value, not cost alone.
Green New Deal critics often look at only one side of the accounting ledger. A columnist for The Wall Street Journal, for example, recently pointed to the $400 billion estimated cost of retrofitting American buildings without mentioning the $1.4 trillion net value (retrofit costs minus saved energy costs) of doing so.
Much of this value can accrue to working Americans who need it most. Nationally, the average energy burden for low-income families is three times greater than for the rest of the country. Low-income families tend to rely more on expensive heating fuels, and have older, less efficient furnaces, appliances and homes. They are likelier to get sick from living near fossil fuel production. Consequently, they can benefit the most from lower-cost renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuels and improved buildings.
And for economywide industrial competitiveness, we can’t afford not to speed these changes. In 2018 China added four times as much solar capacity as the United States, bolstering China’s industrial competitiveness for decades to come. And while American automakers suffer from the collateral damage of this administration’s trade war, China is expected this year to double its sale of electric cars, to two million — half of the world total, by some industry estimates.
Energy efficiency and renewables enjoy overwhelming public support because they offer so many benefits — for competitiveness and jobs, national security and community choice, health and environment, equity and innovation. If you like any of those outcomes, you can support a market-driven Green New Deal without needing to like every outcome — or agree on which outcome is most important.
To this point, America’s energy transition has been driven by insurgent entrepreneurs and the private sector, not politicians. Now we finally have an emergent legislative effort with ambition matching the existential crisis, and the unique opportunity, in front of us. Fully leveraging the power of the market through smart, trans-ideological policy would make us unstoppable.
Amory B. Lovins is co-founder and chief scientist and Rushad R. Nanavatty is a principal of Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent, apolitical nonprofit focused on speeding a market-based shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables.
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: [email protected].