Clean Energy is a Win-Win: Save the Planet and Grow the Economy

February 19, 2021 | Op-Ed, UToday
By UToledo Faculty

On Feb. 7, 2021, the Blade published an article written by Mr. Matt Markey concerning climate change (Green edicts usher in a painful climate for most). Markey suggests that transitioning to clean energy to combat climate change is not needed and will hurt the economy and workers. As faculty at The University of Toledo who focus on environmental sciences and geography, sustainability, renewable energy and economics, we feel compelled to address statements Markey made about climate change and renewable energy that are not accurate. We argue that moving away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy options will both grow our economy and improve our environment.

First, it is important to understand the basics of how burning fossil fuels is changing our climate. Climate is the long-term trend in temperature, precipitation, sunshine, etc., in a region, whereas weather is the short-term variation in these factors. “Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.” Our climate is changing because steady increases in the greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, act like insulation in the atmosphere to increase its temperature. We can still have a record-cold day in winter, but the number of hot days is increasing and cold days are decreasing. On average, the U.S. now experiences more than two record highs for every record low. Average temperature isn’t the only thing changing; we now have increased droughts, flooding, heat waves and wildfires, and none of these are good for people or the economy. The ancient climate changes that Markey cites happened over thousands of years, not a single person’s lifetime. Even worse, past climate changes generally triggered mass extinctions and environmental catastrophe. We would be wise to heed the lessons of climate change from Earth’s past.

Ohio’s agriculture is likely to be hurt by climate change. Agricultural producers will likely be able to adapt to gradual changes in climate, such as by changing to new crops, but increases in extreme weather events will often cause large decreases in food production. Spring floods can wipe out entire fields of young corn and soybean plants. Droughts, which are often accompanied by heat waves, tend to occur when summer crops are making flowers, seeds and fruit, which are very sensitive to drought and heat stress. In extremely dry or wet years, corn and soybean production in the Midwest can plummet by over 20%, costing billions of dollars. During heat waves, farm animals often suffer or die, and milk production in cows decreases. In addition to decreasing crop yields, climate change will often decrease crop quality (the concentration of nutrients in plants). In other words, climate change will often mean less food for humanity and poorer-quality food, too.

Another way that climate change will hurt Ohio is by contributing to harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, which have been worsening in recent years. Increasing water temperatures, rising carbon dioxide, and heavier spring rains that flush nutrients into the lake all fuel the growth of the “bad” algae in Lake Erie. Hence, climate change will increase harmful algal blooms, and this will drive up the costs of treating lake water for drinking, endanger our valuable Lake Erie fisheries, and decrease our recreational use of the lake.

Rather than being a burden, combating climate change by moving to clean energy is an opportunity that will grow the economy, not shrink it. Renewable sources of clean energy like wind and solar have lower environmental impacts than fossil fuel-based energy sources. Market forces will push us in the direction of wind and solar since they are now comparable or cheaper than natural gas and already significantly cheaper than coal. However, there is potential for disruption as clean energy replaces fossil fuels, and we must demand that oil field, coal, auto industry and other affected workers receive fair treatment, and assistance if needed, from their industries and government during the transition. Other countries are going to move forward in developing clean renewable energy sources no matter what the U.S. does. We can choose to stand still as Markey suggests, or we can lead.

In addition to causing climate change, burning fossil fuels contributes to other kinds of pollution and environmental damage. Fossil fuel companies don’t pay for the cost of this damage, the public does. For example, did you know that scientists have linked higher local air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels to lower test scores of students nearby and lower birth weights of children? The harm from air, soil and water pollution from fossil fuels is an enormous hidden cost. In addition, much of the large-scale human migration that we hear about at our southern border and from Africa to Europe is driven by food and water insecurity, which will increase in a world impacted by climate change.

Those who were accustomed to traveling by horse were threatened by the steam engine and, later, by the automobile. Nevertheless, technology and society progressed. Detroit automakers get it; a more prosperous future with better economic opportunities and a cleaner, more sustainable environment lies with electric vehicles, powered by clean renewable electricity, not fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be nice to eat as much fish as one would like from Ohio’s lakes, rivers and streams without being concerned about consuming the heavy metals that are in our water ways due to coal-fired power-plant emissions? As an editor for the Blade’s Outdoor section, Markey would appreciate and be eager for such a future.

Many of Toledo’s leaders recognize that the future will be one with clean, abundant renewable energy. The costs of renewable energy are plummeting, are now comparable to costs from fossil energy in many parts of the country, and their costs will continue to fall. Toledo, in addition to being a driver of this change, stands to benefit a great deal. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand or crying wolf, shouldn’t Toledo, with its heritage of innovation and can-do spirit of getting things done, lead the way to this better future? For the betterment of our city, the region and the world? We cheer the many Toledoans who are embracing the opportunities to improve our energy security, strengthen the local and national economy, and reduce environmental impacts by transitioning to cleaner options for electrical power and transportation.


Aliaksandr Amialchuk, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics
Defne Apul, Ph.D., Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
David Black, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics
James Bland, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Economics
Larry Cook, Senior Lecturer of Economics, and local farmer
Kevin Czajkowski, Ph.D., Professor of Geography
Kevin Egan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Economics
Randall Ellingson, Ph.D., Professor of Physics and Solar Technology
Timothy Fisher, Ph.D., Professor of Geology
Serhan Guner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Michael Heben, Ph.D., Professor of Physics and Solar Technology
Scott Heckathorn, Ph.D., Professor of Plant and Climate-Change Biology
Dae-wook Kang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Patrick Lawrence, Ph.D., Professor of Geography
Christine Mayer, Ph.D., Professor of Aquatic Ecology
Daryl Moorhead, Ph.D., Professor of Ecology
Onur Sapci, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Energy Economics
Young Seo, Ph.D., Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Michael Weintraub, Ph.D., Professor of Ecology

These are the authors’ professional opinions and do not necessarily represent those of The University of Toledo.

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