Opportunities for innovation, economic development, job creation, higher standards of living for the middle class and even environmental enhancements abound in the scenarios on global warming. But doom, not opportunities, dominates the dialogue, which is a disservice to progress.  

Ironically, Paris, currently the epicenter of terrorist attacks, is also the epicenter of the dialogue on global warming. The UN Climate Change Conference began in Paris on November 30 and lasts for 10 days.  

Negotiations among world leaders will center on which countries should limit greenhouse gases by how much.  


Congress is currently considering a $500 billion infrastructure bill. This bill includes primarily water and transportation related infrastructure projects. Connecting these projects to global warming is a major opportunity, one we cannot miss. 

If passed, state and local governments will more than match the federal dollars. And, for every $100 billion in expenditures on infrastructure 2.2 million jobs are created and $350 billion in economic impact is produced. Moreover, the middle class benefits disproportionately from jobs in the infrastructure sector. 

The very problems associated with global warming are the opportunities for infrastructure development and, therefore, for jobs, economic growth, technological innovation, environmental and recreational enhancements, and mitigation of the negative impacts from global warming, all at the same time. But the bill has to connect to the global warming problems.


●     Global warming is and will continue to cause a rise in the sea level with associated beach erosion. The U.S. has 95,000 miles of coastline and 40 percent of Americans live in counties along the coasts, where the impacts of the sea level rise are greatest. An Infrastructure bill can provide for dunes and lagoons along the coasts, which protect from beach erosion and also provide recreational areas and ecosystems for plants, birds, and small animals. Lagoons, dunes, and beaches in combination are a bird watcher’s paradise.

●     Global warming is and will continue to cause more volatile weather. Rain and snowstorms will be more intense and droughts more severe. We already have evidence of this, especially in California. An infrastructure bill can provide for reservoirs, which store water from severe storms for use during droughts. These same reservoirs can provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunity for boating. 


Similarly an infrastructure bill can provide for levees and wetlands along rivers, which protect from overflows during heavy rains, supply areas to recharge groundwater aquifers and make available habitat and recreational opportunities. 

●     Smart water meters and smart water delivery systems are examples of technological innovations being implemented in a few cities, San Francisco being the best example.

●     Any infrastructure bill will have resources for transportation including roads, bridges, railways, commercial ports and docking facilities. These too can be constructed and refurbished as needed to protect from floods and provide for habitat. 

The infrastructure sector could take a lesson from the energy sector where innovation is pervasive and actions are well linked to climate change. For example, installation of highly efficient solar panels, utility scale solar power, “smart” wind farms, efficient batteries that store electricity for when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing, and a “smart” electric power grid are exploding.   

A $20 million XPrize competition, titled “Reimagine CO2”, has just been launched for capturing CO2 and turning it into useable products. Wall Street has created a special yield fund for solar energy.    

As a result, fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have been declining for the last 10 years. All of this points to solutions and opportunity.

The good news is that public spending on infrastructure (primarily transportation and water) exceeded $400 billion in 2014, and three-quarters of this came from state and local governments, and one-quarter from the federal government.    

The bad news is this spending was not linked to infrastructure for global warming, nationally, regionally or locally and the entrepreneurs with innovative ideas are absent.  

Global warming is here and will continue for the foreseeable future. But it does not have to spell doom.

Gilliland, is founder of Leadership for Possibilities and a Tucson public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. She is a former professor of environmental engineering, and retired chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.