We’ve all heard the warnings. Whether it’s in a distressing Tiktok video or a school science lesson, Generation Z hears again and again about the growing threat of climate change. In just the past few months, we’ve seen alarmingly low water levels in the Southwest, flooding across California, and record setting temperatures across the Northeast. Many of us have even experienced the climate crisis head on; in fact, climate related disasters hit 1 in 10 homes just last year.
It only seems to be getting worse. Our world’s leading experts in environmental science predict a bleak future with even more frequent and severe extreme weather events. They warn droughts, flooding, and rising sea levels will force millions of us to flee our homes and migrate to more hospitable regions. Take it from the Secretary General of the United Nations: “We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing …We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator” UN Climate Change. The story of climate change is generally one of catastrophe, especially for those most vulnerable; however, with a bit of rewriting, we can shift the narrative to one of progress and opportunity.
It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. Despite the existential threat of disaster, the climate crisis can also present an unprecedented economic opportunity. Changes to industrial development, transportation, and manufacturing can allow for new industries to prosper and provide new job opportunities for everyone. In the transportation sector, for instance, we have all observed the shift to electric vehicles. According to some projections, cars, trucks, and public transportation will all shift to electric power in the next decade. Gas stations at every street corner and annoying stops to refill your car tank will quickly become a relic of the past. Carbon capture companies that remove CO2 from the atmosphere also have significant opportunities to expand. Even companies attempting to transition the world’s food industry away from red meat, like Beyond Burger, are projected to grow. Hope for the business leaders of today remains strong too. In fact, of the world’s 500 largest businesses more than 225 reported climate change will likely improve their economic prospects and can generate $2.1 trillion in new business, according to the Columbia Climate School.
If we take action to combat climate change now, the World Economic Forum predicts more than $43 trillion in value can be added to the global economy between now and 2070. Comparatively, if we ignore the climate crisis, we can expect to experience almost $178 trillion in economic losses in the same time period.
Combating climate change will also present new job opportunities to all. A green economy has the potential to provide new jobs for all kinds of workers, regardless of education or skill set. That means it won’t just be the Wall Street elites and big business owners reaping the benefits. Construction workers will be needed to build new green infrastructure, laborers to shift our energy reliance to renewables, and scientists to develop solutions to new climate related challenges. The green economy could produce some 24 million new jobs across the globe by 2030, according to the United Nations.
As a teen, my calls for climate action are often met by older critics claiming that I’m too young to understand it yet, and that environmental legislation would ruin the economy. I am sure most of you have experienced something similar. What I bet those older folks didn’t know though, is that in the United States, investing money into clean energy rather than fossil fuels will produce significantly more jobs. In fact, the World Resources Institute found $1 million invested into clean energy created more than twice as many jobs than investing the same amount in the fossil fuel industry would. That’s because renewable energies are generally less capital intensive and more labor intensive than fossil fuels.
The United States is already headed in the right direction. Last year, the federal government passed the largest piece of climate legislation in the country’s history. The policy package, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, is projected to help cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 percent by 2030, while simultaneously creating new economic opportunities in manufacturing and energy. The legislation includes more than 100 climate, energy, and environmental related investments. The act is projected to create more than nine million jobs in the next decade, averaging about a million a year, the BlueGreen Alliance found. That means greater job opportunities for us young people when we enter the workforce.
I know climate change can seem like an overwhelming crisis. Many say it is the biggest challenge not only our generation, but that humanity as a whole has ever faced. I am confident that a path forward is possible and that there is hope for a prosperous future. A green economy can heal the damage inflicted by old industries on our planet, introduce innovative new industries to the economy, and provide accessible job opportunities to all. Our world stands at a historic crossroads. For people and the planet, the transition to a new sustainable economy is the best bargain of our time.