How to win the future

March 5, 2024

Not long before his passing, our founder, David Giuliani, shared an excellent essay by Tomas Pueyo subtitled, How to Predict the Future and Make the Most of It. As a serial entrepreneur, David was adept at seeing the future and getting out front to lead the way. He knew that Pueyo was right:

“To shape the future, distribute the future that’s already here.”

So how do you spot the future in the present?

“The best way is with an unstoppable trend.”

Here’s an unstoppable trend: Clean energy.

The transition to clean energy is a significant change to the global economy, along the lines of mass production, computerization, and ecommerce. As with any major change, there will be winners and there will be losers.

Think about Amazon and Sears. Netflix and Blockbuster. Silicon Valley and Kodak Park. Soon we’ll look back and see the same story with renewable-powered economies leaving oil-dependent economies in their dust.

The 2024 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook published by BloombergNEF and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy reports,

“Global investment in the energy transition once again shattered records in 2023, soaring to $1.7 trillion, with the U.S. attracting $303 billion of investment, second to China’s $676 billion.”

Already, Germany generates most of its electricity with renewables. In Norway, ranked #2 for quality of life, EVs have surpassed 80% market share of new vehicles. Even China – still the world’s leading GHG emitter – is now putting more EVs on the roads, more windmills on the hills, and more solar panels under the sun than any other country. Here in the United States, we have some catching up to do.

Thanks to public policy (such as the Inflation Reduction Act) and private-sector innovation, the U.S. is making progress. The 2024 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook reports,

“Strong performance by clean energy sectors is bolstered by a suite of federal policies that provide clear market signals to invest.”

“2023 showed a return to long-term trends of rising energy productivity and falling emissions. The U.S. economy achieved more economic output with less energy and emitted fewer greenhouse gasses while doing so.”

“U.S. energy productivity increased by 3.8 percent in 2023, as the economy expanded 2.4 percent and U.S. primary energy consumption slowed by 1.4 percent. U.S. energy productivity has grown 30.6 percent over the past decade and has improved 101 percent since 1990.”

“Why it matters: Energy productivity – a measure of economic output per unit of energy consumed in the U.S. – is an essential metric to grade our country’s competitiveness in the global market. The three-decade-long upward trajectory of U.S. energy productivity showcases the positive return on public and private sector investments in energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is an essential tool in the toolbox needed to meet U.S. decarbonization goals.”

Notably, some states are making progress faster than others. Those that are, reap the benefits: stronger economies and healthier air.

What about Washington state? Will we shape the future? Will we stay stuck to the fossil-fueled past, or will we accelerate adoption of the clean energy future?

At the recent Future of Carbon Policy Forum in Seattle, Governor Jay Inslee was asked, “Which sectors or technologies are primed for Washington state to dominate?” Inslee said all of them – from Sustainable Aviation Fuel (with our strong aviation industry) and green hydrogen (PNW H2Hub in Centralia), to nuclear fusion (already 5 of the top 10 companies are in WA) and battery tech. With Group14, Sila Technologies, and Twelve, Moses Lake is on track to become the Silicon Valley of clean energy. Inslee noted that silicon transformed how we store information; now silicon is transforming how we store energy.

Governor Inslee made a point about championing the early success of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA).

The Climate Commitment Act is our state’s “competitive advantage”. By putting a market-based price on carbon emissions, it requires polluters to clean up or pay up. The pollution fees collected at auction get invested in projects and programs that speed our transition to the coming clean economy.

Inslee pointed out that the revenues raised are invested here at home, keeping those dollars in-state. And even better, those dollars attract many more, in federal and private-sector investments that create jobs while cleaning the air, water, and lands on which our health depends.

In just the first year of CCA implementation, leaders in Olympia have invested in:

6 Electrified ferries and 5 ferry terminal charging projects

5,000 EV charging stations

8.3 million free rides for youth on public transit

27 Forestry Riparian Easement Program grants and 30 Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board projects

And more.

These are just the beginning. New graphics from RMI show sector-by-sector opportunities, federal investment potential, and the real human benefits we can access if our state acts fast:

Per RMI,

“Our future will be powered by clean energy. Our economy is already moving towards this — rapidly. These changes provide enormous opportunities for economic development and improvements in public health and safety, among other benefits.

The potential of a clean energy economy is fully in view. RMI’s State Solutions Graphics showcase the benefits this could entail — and how the pieces of this future can fit together, sector by sector. The faster and more strategically states work toward this future, the more they will gain.”

Already, after just one year, the Climate Commitment Act is working to shape the future of Washington state’s thriving economy, helping to keep it ahead of the pack.

As a policy that drives down emissions while making polluters pay for investments in carbon emissions reduction and air quality improvement programs, the CCA is the envy of other states.

California is implementing improvements to their cap-and-invest program aligned with Washington state’s CCA. New York state is modeling their cap-and-invest program after ours. And now Maryland is considering a cap-and-invest program.

Leadership means moving forward, not backward. Or as Will Rogers put it, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Washington state is on the right track, powered by CCA investments, leading the way forward to the clean energy future.

Clean & Prosperous Washington is a project of the Washington Business Alliance.
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