The future of North Carolina’s economy depends on climate action

By: - September 25, 2019 2:37 pm
Image: Adobe Stock

Tandy Jones, a farmer and business owner of 36 years from Chatham County, wrote of climate change’s impact on his farm in a recent op-ed in The News & Observer:

“With ever-changing conditions, it’s increasingly difficult to plan and prepare.”

Tandy Jones is not alone. Businesses across the state face hardships with each crippling storm and the accumulating effects of climate-fueled extreme weather events on our state’s economy. With Hurricane Florence costing the state $17 billion, the consequences of climate change have rippled throughout the state and affected every business industry and every business owner.

Our state is taking action. We have the second-highest solar energy capacity in the country, we have decreased our dependence on coal-powered plants by 25% since 2012, and we are home to technology companies innovating renewable energy and smart grid technology. Governor Cooper is priming us for a clean energy future with his Executive Order 80 with plans from state agencies to be released this October.

What’s missing? The US Congress’s action addressing extreme climate-related events.

Just 20 years ago Congress led a bipartisan effort to address the root causes of extreme weather issues. George H.W. Bush worked with a bipartisan coalition to pass the Clean Air Act of 1990 to address the devastating impact of acid rain. The bill was able to cut acid rain in half and led to “$122 billion in benefits” to the economy.

Twenty years later, we need a resurgence of bipartisan cooperation to help our businesses and communities to combat climate challenges.

Without this action, NC businesses will face higher costs due to rising energy and insurance costs, and resultant bankruptcies due to reoccurring climate-related events.

Large businesses have taken steps to address climate challenges in response to shareholder and consumer demands. Small businesses are also doing their part by reducing waste, cutting back on travel, rethinking supply chains, and seeking access to renewable energy.

Small businesses drive our economy. They number almost 900,000 and employ 44% of the state’s employees. When small businesses prosper, the state’s economy prospers too. With climate-related events projected to cost the US economy $44 trillion by 2060, we cannot afford to wait for action.

But businesses cannot do it alone.

North Carolina small businesses call for the US Congress to address our climate-related concerns now. We ask that they take bipartisan action to convert to a 100% clean energy economy by 2050. And because the effects of extreme weather events are already being felt, we need funding to help businesses prepare for and deal with the after-effects of weather-related disasters.

Action on climate issues now will not only stave off the effects major weather disasters, but it will help businesses and communities save money. With bipartisan Congressional action on climate-fueled extreme weather events, we will:

1. Decrease energy costs: A 2018 study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that renewable energy continues to decline in cost and beats out other energy sources. Our state is already ahead with nearly 1000 clean energy companies funneling $6.4 billion in revenue to our state.

2. Build a more reliable and efficient power grid: We can replace our 100 year plus electric grid with smart grid technology that can increase energy efficiency, integrate renewable energy, and reduce disruptions caused by storms.

3. Protect our food supply and support farmers’ livelihoods: Agriculture injects $76 billion a year into the NC economy, more than any other industry, making it vital to our state’s economy.

4. Protect our ports and supply chain: We can prevent the sea level rise threatening our ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, and keep supply chains functioning for our businesses.

5. Preserve tourism: Our state attracts 50 million visitors a year and spent a record-breaking $24 billion in 2017. It is vital that we protect the natural beauty and cultural attractions of our state.

We ask that our representatives in the US Congress make these goals a reality by matching our state’s strides in responding to this emergency. Bipartisan action is possible. We have seen recent evidence in June when a $19 billion disaster relief bill was signed into law by the President. Among its provisions, it allocates much-needed funds to help farmers. But more is needed to help businesses thrive and support our communities.

Extreme weather events affect every North Carolina citizen. As business owners, we seek a better future for all North Carolinians. By working together today, 30 years from now, in 2050, we will see the fruits of our efforts: a prospering and sustainable North Carolina economy.

Vicki Lee Parker is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Business Council.

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