National race for green jobs is on; let’s win it

If your house was burning down, you wouldn’t say, “Let’s just ignore that, because it’s a bother, and doing something would interrupt our barbeque party.” You’d put down the tongs and pick up a garden hose, and tell your friends to call the fire department.

We are polluting and overloading the entire climate with greenhouse gases. We have a choice: We can act, or we can suffer the consequences of our inaction.

I understand why Reps. Kirk Pearson and Dan Kristiansen are worried about jobs. (Feb. 8 guest commentary, “How will climate change bills impact jobs, families?”) My Republican colleagues aren’t sure how much climate change hurts us, so the bigger boogeyman is anything that could hurt our economy.

Change is scary, and this is a worthy debate. I share their worries about jobs. What worries me more is the cost of doing nothing.

Families here are already suffering from the effects of extreme weather and pollution. Washington is getting battered by freak storms and floods, costing families and businesses billions. I-5 keeps getting shut down by flooding. Extreme weather also means more forest fires, plus $75 million a year in extra taxpayer money to pay for putting out those fires. It means $200 million a year out of your pockets to pay for higher electricity bills and higher gas prices whenever you fill up the family car.

It’d be one thing if doing nothing — or going the other way and polluting more — would create jobs. Maybe that works in theory. In real life, it doesn’t. Never has. You can’t pollute your way to prosperity.

The newest economic race will be green technology. Whoever develops the right products and ideas will create great jobs, because there are 6 billion people on this planet who want to buy smart things that save money and the earth. Light bulbs that last three years instead of six months. Cars that get 60 miles to the gallon instead of 20. Houses that only cost $100 a month to heat in the winter instead of $300.

President Obama said, “If we create a new energy economy, we can create 5 million new jobs, easily. It can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades. We can do it.”

Washington state has traditionally led the way on the environment. I reject the notion that we should cower in fear and hug the old polluting Hummer economy like a 3-year-old clinging to his blankie. The Hummer economy is dead. No amount of political nostalgia will bring it back.

Right now, people in Washington state are creating the green jobs of tomorrow. The new biogas plant in Monroe is helping farmers stay in business while creating electricity and jobs, and another group of farmers in the Snohomish Valley is working to produce locally grown biofuels to keep their farms profitable and provide local fuel. Across our county citizens are taking action.

As for the one reform that scares Republicans the most right now, I’m going to tell you a secret: Cap and trade is a free market idea. It’s supported not just by President Obama, but by the Republican who ran against him, U.S. Sen. John McCain, who said, “We can move forward, and clean up our climate, and develop green technologies, and alternative energies for battery-powered cars, so that we can clean up our environment and at the same time get our economy going by creating millions of jobs.”

Conservatives thought up cap-and-trade years ago as an alternative to the state passing laws and mandates. Instead, unleash the power of the free market. Let private enterprise drive down pollution. Don’t punish people for polluting. Reward those who find smart ways to cut pollution and they will find ways of doing just that.

There’s also a nice little byproduct of all that free marketing and innovation. It creates jobs.

I want to leave you with a Cree proverb, which goes like this: Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can’t eat money.

Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) is a former volunteer firefighter and small business owner. He chairs the Capital Budget Committee, which oversees the state’s construction budget.

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