How states can fight back against the climate emergency
California is on fire. In Florida, the ocean is expected to rise another six inches in the next 15 years, destroying countless homes and lives. And in the Midwest, more frequent heatwaves have led to drought, reduced crop yields and the death of thousands of livestock.
Climate change is not on the horizon; it is already here. And it is impacting American lives every day. The most important tools we have to address the growing concerns around climate change are knowledge, education and preparedness — all of which can be fostered and advanced through the creation of viable green career pathways. Armed with these tools, we can ensure that all Americans are well-informed and well-prepared to tackle this once-in-a-lifetime challenge.
More than 80 percent of parents and teachers support teaching about climate change and its impact in schools. Unfortunately, little time is being spent in the classroom discussing the topic, and many teachers do not have access to the necessary resources and professional development to effectively teach it. This is why state and local dollars should be allocated for providing resources and professional development opportunities to educators around climate change — particularly as new content standards, such as the Next Generation Science Standards become more popular. Of course, education alone won’t be enough to fix our warming planet — tackling climate change must become a national priority.
My home state of Iowa understands the power of investing in green energy and renewable energy jobs. The Hawkeye state is the largest producer of green energy in the United States, producing over 58 percent of its electricity from primarily wind turbines. In 2019, these turbines provided over $69 million in lease payments to Iowa landowners and produced more than $61 million in taxes for the state and local governments, while simultaneously reducing carbon dioxide emissions equal to 2.7 million cars.
Iowa’s “green economy” currently employs over 13,000 workers, and is expected to grow nearly 20 percent in the next five years. Thus, the economic argument for addressing global warming is clear: Climate change education and green career pathways benefit state bottom lines. However, growing our workforce to meet the rising demand for renewable energy will require laser-like focus and a national commitment to addressing the impacts of climate change.
Investment and alignment at every educational level will be critical for providing green industries with a highly skilled workforce pipeline, as many require career-specific competencies such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, green manufacturing and conservation. Career and technical education programs and community college systems are uniquely positioned to help students enter these careers.
In North Carolina, the state’s Clean Energy Youth Apprenticeship Program provides high school and community college students with opportunities for on-the-job training, necessary coursework and workforce internships to enter in-demand green careers. And in Iowa, community colleges, often in partnership with energy manufacturers, are offering wind energy-specific programs such as degrees and certifications in turbine technology, sustainable energy technology, and applied engineering technology — wind turbines. State and local leaders must think critically about the industries that are growing in their region, and then develop programs to support students with the resources to enter or reskill into those industries. For instance, nearly 420,000 potential workers in Iowa, from a variety of industries such as transportation, retail and construction, could be easily reskilled into green jobs.
As the former governor of Iowa and a former high school educator who, today, consults clients who are involved in renewable energy and infrastructure initiatives, I understand just how substantial the benefits of investing in renewable and green energy industries can be, not only for our planet but for the state. During my time in office, we were the only state to have its entire bipartisan congressional delegation vote in favor of wind production tax credits. Perhaps it is time for leaders across the country, regardless of party, to rally around climate change initiatives and green energy. Just look at what it did for Iowa — these credits saved Iowa taxpayers and businesses money while incentivizing job creation, particularly in rural communities, where the majority of wind farms are located. Today, these Iowa communities continue to thrive thanks to our over $20 billion historic investment in renewable energy, while unfortunately other communities across the country who have doubled down on fossil fuels continue to struggle.
Climate change can be a highly contentious and political issue that arguably poses the most significant threat to the next generation of Americans. But it is also a threat that, with proper preparation, investment and bipartisan support, we can face head-on.
As a former educator, I understand that one of our most effective tools in the battle against climate change is our schools. By equipping millions of teachers and young people, who are already passionate about this issue, with the skills, knowledge and information necessary to address climate change, and through the creation of clear, accessible green career pathways, we may be able to stem the growing tide and ensure our children and grandchildren have a healthy and safe planet for millennia to come.
Chet Culver is the founder of the Chet Culver Group, a renewable energy and infrastructure consultancy. He was the governor of Iowa from 2007 to 2011.