Farmers, Fighters, Clean Energy: How Smart Policies Help the Economy and the Environment

09/18/2014 05:49 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

The Obama administration has come up with a way to support our farmers and our military veterans -- while at the same time helping our economy and our environment through more clean energy.

On Thursday, the Department of Agriculture announced it will invest $68 million in more than 500 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects on farms and rural areas.

At the same time, the White House announced it is launching a major new solar workforce training program on military bases. By connecting veterans with community college-based solar training institutions, the program could train 50,000 new solar installers by 2020.

Coming on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit in New York next week, these moves are just the sort of smart policy actions that the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate called for in a new report that's getting a lot of attention -- and deservedly so.

The "Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy" report details how shifting to a low-carbon, clean energy future can help the environment AND the economy. Doing so, the report notes, will create jobs, drive markets and generate economic benefits that far outweigh the costs of moving away from fossil fuels and energy-inefficient buildings, cars and homes.

As former Mexico president and Global Commission co-chair Felipe Calderón writes in USA Today:

"For years we've heard that fighting climate change will hurt economic growth. But new analysis finds this is simply not true."

The Global Commission report -- and the moves by the Obama administration -- reinforce what my group, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), has realized and emphasized since its founding nearly 15 years ago:

Smart environmental policies can lead to economic growth.

We know this because we've seen it.

Over the past three years, E2 has tracked about 200,000 new clean energy and clean transportation jobs across the country.

These are real jobs for real people, making a real difference. They're jobs on military bases and jobs on farms.

They're jobs created by entrepreneurs like those I was fortunate to meet at an E2 event in Chicago this week. People like Ted Fetters, whose company, Willdan Energy Solutions, helps make big data centers throughout the Midwest more efficient; and Matt Stedl, whose Stedl Construction & Development in Chicago specializes in energy efficient houses and commercial buildings.

They're people all over the country, whose stories you can find at along with state-by-state breakdowns of clean energy and clean transportation job announcements.

According to the "Better Growth, Better Climate" report, the growth potential is immense.

For instance:

Cities: Building better connected, more compact cities based on mass public transport can save over US $3 trillion in investment costs over the next 15 years, according to the report. These measures will improve economic performance and quality of life with lower emissions.

Land use: Restoring just 12 percent of the world's degraded lands can feed another 200 million people and raise farmers' incomes by $40 billion a year -- and also cut emissions from deforestation.

Energy: As the price of solar and wind power falls dramatically, over half of new electricity generation over the next 15 years is likely to be from renewable energy, reducing dependence on highly polluting coal.

Resource efficiency: Phasing out the $600 billion currently spent on subsidies for fossil fuels (compared to $100 billion on renewable energy) will help to improve energy efficiency and make funds available for poverty reduction.

Infrastructure investment: New financial instruments can cut capital costs for clean energy by up to 20 percent.

Innovation: Tripling research and development in low-carbon technologies to at least 0.1% of GDP can drive a new wave of innovation for growth.

Of course to continue to reap these economic and environmental benefits, we must all speak out, speak up and make sure our elected officials and regulators do the right thing. We should demand more programs like the Obama administration announced Thursday, and denounce those who would keep us shackled to an economy forever dependent on fossil fuels.

As Lord Nicolas Stern, co-chair of the commission behind the report puts it:

"The decisions we make now will determine the future of our economy and our climate.

"If we choose low-carbon investment we can generate strong, high-quality growth -- not just in the future, but now," he said in a statement announcing the report. "But if we continue down the high-carbon route, climate change will bring severe risks to long-term prosperity."

I couldn't agree more.