Is the political malaise about climate change getting you down? Take a trip to Colorado, a clean energy hotbed that is creating thousands of new green jobs despite the climate cold war in Washington.
I met war veterans who once crawled through attics in Iraq seeking terrorists who are now tracking down air leaks that need insulation in Colorado residents' attics. Denver-based Veterans Green Jobs has landed more than 100 green jobs for local veterans in the past year alone - and they're looking to triple that number in 2010.
Boulder County's new ClimateSmart program, which provides energy efficiency and renewable energy loans for homeowners and businesses, has supported nearly $10 million of projects in just its first six months. "To date, we've cut checks to over 282 unique contractors, vendors and installers. These are local companies so the dollars are recirculating, as are the utility savings," said Boulder County sustainability coordinator Ann Livingston, whose program is being financed with local bonds purchased by local residents.
Venture capital is flowing into Colorado for green startups that see promise in the smart grid, energy storage and other clean tech technologies. "In 2008, we had $458 million of venture capital investments in Colorado. It's just astounding," Colorado Climate Change Coordinator Alice Madden said, noting that such investments have helped create 1,700 clean tech businesses in Colorado that provide 17,000 jobs.
Even more astounding is the larger job numbers Colorado and the rest of the U.S. would see if national policies encouraged homegrown energy conservation and clean energy instead of high-polluting energy sources, much of which comes from countries hostile to the U.S. A recent University of California study estimates that up to 1.9 million new jobs could be created nationally - including up to 30,000 in Colorado - if comprehensive climate and energy legislation is passed.
"It really is a national security issue," says Veterans Green Jobs National Program Director Stacy Bare, a former Army officer who served in Iraq in 2007. "If we want to dictate the way we live in America, we have to change the way we use energy and where we get our energy."
Aspen Skiing Co.'s Auden Schendler says we need to end our reliance on cheap fossil fuels that have huge societal costs, both from military spending and far-reaching environmental impacts, including reduced snowpack in Colorado. Capping and putting a price on carbon emissions, he says, would enable energy efficiency and clean energy technologies - and associated jobs - to take off. "This is a massive job opportunity, but we need policy support to push it forward," Schendler said.
So what can we expect from Congress? The House of Representatives approved a comprehensive climate and energy bill last summer, but gaining support in the Senate has been far more difficult, especially given the recent stall tactics from opponents about the credence of climate science.
Madden says every day of delay puts the US further behind in the global clean energy race.
"While we dither and talk about whether climate change exists, China is investing $10 billion a month into research, into clean tech, into green jobs," she says.
Is the U.S. going to get on board?