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From Global Crisis to Climate Turning Point

Fossil fuels still dominate U.S. energy, but renewables growing ...When future generations look back on how countries responded to the worst public health crisis and largest economic shock in a century, what will they see?


Will they see leaders who were stuck in old ways of thinking and tried to save the declining technologies of the past? Or will they see leaders who recognized the opportunity to build a better, smarter future—and turned a devastating crisis into a turning point?


We’ll soon know.


As this first quarterly issue of Bloomberg Green goes to print, governments around the world are debating how to mobilize unprecedented sums of money to stabilize national economies and counter the devastation wrought by the novel coronavirus. As they do, all are facing a choice between the old road and a new one. Between protecting jobs in old industries and creating jobs in new ones. Between burning coal and gas and harnessing renewable energy. Between damaging our health and improving it. And between worsening climate change and stopping it while building resiliency.


The choice is starkly clear, and it’s not between environmental protection and economic growth, as some will try to claim. It’s a choice between capitalizing on market forces or fighting them—and the market is clearly moving in the direction of clean power.


Even before the coronavirus crisis arrived, oil industry returns were lower than they were during the Great Recession, and coal-fired power plants were closing as steadily under President Trump as they did under President Obama. Meanwhile, the renewable power industry was steadily and rapidly moving in the opposite direction: growing returns, increasing installations, and rising job numbers.


Those trends reflect larger economic forces, as business leaders and consumers see value in a greener economy. After all, it saves them money on their power bills, cleans the air in their communities, and reduces the volatility of energy markets.


The commercial and consumer demand for clean infrastructure will continue growing stronger. But that demand will be blunted, and job creation slowed, without government action to finance large-scale projects that will attract the private investment our economy so badly needs.


We know these kinds of public investments in modern infrastructure can speed economic recovery and spur sustained, long-term growth because we’ve seen it before.


A decade ago, New York City came out of the global economic crisis faster and stronger than almost anywhere else. That success was in no small part a result of the investments we made in modern infrastructure, which helped create the conditions for new commercial investment even during those hard times. We expanded mass transit, improved streetscapes to strengthen community business districts, incentivized companies to upgrade their energy systems, and supported the expansion of innovative industries and research, including the development of a world-class applied science campus.


Those and other strategies have succeeded in cities around the world. And now we need governments to turbocharge them. The good news: The market for investments in clean infrastructure has never been more favorable.


In recent years the cost of clean energy has dropped dramatically, which has made wind and solar power two of the fastest-growing job-creating industries. They’re now cheaper than fossil fuels in much of the world—and producing better returns for investors. Bloomberg LP has saved $120 million over the past 12 years by transitioning more of our power to clean energy and increasing the efficiency of our operations.


At the same time, the storage capacity of batteries is far beyond what it was just a few years ago, making electric vehicles more attractive to buyers. Public investment in infrastructure, including more charging stations, will help to further reduce their costs, saving drivers at the pump and making consumers and businesses less vulnerable to oil market fluctuations.


Not surprisingly, however, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has favored bailouts to oil and coal companies over clean power. In crafting relief and recovery bills, Congress should listen not to fossil fuel lobbyists but to mayors and business leaders who are closest to consumer and commercial markets. Both groups have been pleading for a major federal investment in modern infrastructure for many years. We can’t afford to wait any longer.


The stakes couldn’t be higher, for our economy and our environment. Mass unemployment continues to rise, as the window for avoiding the worst effects of climate change continues to close. The decisions governments make now and over the months ahead will have profound economic and environmental consequences for generations to come.


The choice is ours to make.


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