Moving forward or backward, our choice

Last week, we saw two big announcements from California: the start of construction on the first high-speed rail project in the U.S. and a new goal for renewable energy — 50 percent by 2030.

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At the same time, Republicans continue their obsession with approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Among their spurious reasons for making it a top priority are the 42,000 jobs it will create, a number many people take issue with. While around 2,000 direct jobs are expected during the brief construction period — even if all the indirect jobs add up to their number — that's nothing compared to the 100,000 California's high-speed rail will create, sustained over the 14 years it takes to build the network.

Then there's the other big job creator: the rise of renewable energy in our country. With California on track to reach 33 percent renewable energy by 2020, a cap-and-trade system that prices carbon, and strong incentives for cleaner transportation, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) announced that it's time to establish the next set of objectives in his fourth inaugural address. By the end of this year, 500,000 people in California will be employed by the booming clean energy industry — more than those in the TV and film, semiconductor and aerospace industries, according to the Advanced Energy Economy Institute (AEE) — in areas like solar and wind, energy efficiency and electric vehicles. This is the largest advanced energy workforce in the country and the growth can be directly attributed to the state's leading policies.

"The AEE Institute's report is further proof that California's economy is thriving — not in spite of our climate change goals but because of them," says Kish Rajan, director of the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development.

Yet Republicans push all this aside. Unless they happen to be governing states like Iowa that are benefiting too much from wind energy to drop it, their sole interest is in more fossil fuels at a time when most of our country wants to break that addiction. They can't even bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of climate change, holding the U.S. back from the greatest job creator of all, the next industrial revolution — one that prioritizes clean air and clean water; restores forests, prairies and wetlands; and reverses global warming.

They would rather have endless fracking, dangerous deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic, and tar sands — all delivered through trains with the potential for accidents or pipelines built by companies with histories of costly ruptures. And they put all of their energy into fighting regulations that would make any of that safer, such as controlling methane emissions from fracking or keeping it out of our treasured public lands, set aside as last bastions for wildlife.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to reject Keystone is that we have to stop building infrastructure that locks us into the dirtiest fossil fuels for decades to come. Gov. Brown is successful because he understands the need to redirect investments to the infrastructure of the future. It's time for the rest of us to get on board with that.

While Republicans focus on the cost of high-speed rail, every advanced nation has invested in it. In Europe, a new line runs on solar energy and China is moving on it full speed ahead. "California's population is expected to grow [60 percent] over the next 40 years. Investing in a green job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state's projected population boom," notes Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

To prevent world temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — which the world's governments have agreed is essential to avoid runaway climate change — 82 percent of remaining fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Currently, we are hurtling toward a catastrophic 5 degrees Celsius of warming, which will be extremely difficult — if not impossible — for life on Earth to withstand. The first study has been released that shows exactly what must stay in the ground and where. Published in Nature, researchers at University College London conclude that tar sands, in particular, "must fall to negligible levels after 2020," Arctic drilling is out, and "a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 [percent] of current coal reserves should remain unused."

Low gas prices are temporary; a society that values prosperity through health is what we need for the long-term.

Fried, Ph.D., is CEO of SustainableBusiness.com, known for its daily green business news and national green jobs service since 1996. She selects the constituents for NASDAQ's Green Economy Index.

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