Department of Energy chief says ‘our hair should be on fire’ after summer of widespread climate disasters

Environment

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack shut down during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, May 11, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Climate change became a personal event for a third of Americans this summer, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Jennifer Granholm said on Wednesday.

“Our hair should be on fire,” Granholm said in an event for Climate Week NYC. “We have lived through a summer — we all have seen it — where nearly one in three Americans have lived through, now, a climate disaster.”

“So there’s no way we can hit the snooze button on climate action. This is not our alarm clock going off. This is a fire alarm code red for humanity, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said,” Granholm said.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published its own analysis of federal disaster declarations, which showed almost a third of Americans live in a county that was affected by a weather disaster during a three month period. That includes the heat dome in the Northwest, flash floods, drought and wildfires.

It’s not clear whether Granholm was referencing the Post’s analysis or similar findings by the Department of Energy.

Urgent efforts to decarbonize global industries will be expensive and will ultimately create jobs, Granholm underscored on Wednesday.

“By the end of this decade, the global market for clean energy and carbon reduction technologies is going to reach $23 trillion — at a minimum,” Granholm said. “And so we want to corner that market by building clean energy supply chains and solutions here, sourced in America with American labor.”

Those jobs would be located across the U.S. and would vary in required skillset, she said. The Department of Energy is also working to ensure those jobs would be represented by unions, Granholm said.

“The president really feels this very deeply that labor built his country, they built the middle class and what we’ve come to learn over the last several decades is that when the labor community is weakened, inequality grows. That’s it,” Granholm said.

Granholm said the U.S. could see clean energy transition jobs opening up for engineers, maintenance workers, pipe fitters, plasterers, painters, plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, boilermakers, autoworkers, ironworkers, linemen and journeymen.

Fossil fuel energy workers will have the opportunity to transition into clean energy jobs, too, she said.

“We believe that clean energy jobs that offer the chance to join a union are going to address that inequality issue,” Granholm said. “It is going to lift millions of families into the middle class.”

And work has to happen fast, she said.

“We had our biggest year last year with respect to installed gigawatts of wind and solar, but we’ve got to double, triple, quadruple that amount,” Granholm said. “So we can not rest, it is all about deployment and getting that clean energy on the grid.”

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