Solar Tribune

Climate Change Policy: Bigger Picture Policies

In many ways, the decision to combat climate change is not a simple one because of how many strategies there are and how many facets of society that various climate policies can impact, whether intentionally or unintentionally. While a growing consensus continues to back the idea that climate policy of some sort is needed and quickly, there’s also a significant portion of that movement who is pushing to make sure that broader level views of what climate policies might mean for the future of economic classes, job statuses, industries, and more. So a key part of the push for appropriate climate change policy mechanisms takes an appropriate step back to look at what that bigger picture is and how consideration of these social and global impacts should be weighed when widespread policies are debated and ultimately implemented.

Recognizing that no climate change policy operates in isolation, here are some key ‘bigger picture’ policy areas that should be considered during the advancement of the climate debate:


Focusing on a Just Transition

What is it: Certain experts look at the market forces at play and find that federal energy policy is no longer necessary to push a clean energy transition away from coal and fossil fuels towards a clean energy future, as the work of previously mentioned policies like feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, and R&D resources has given these technologies the push they need. While localized policies might be necessary by state or local governments to encourage regional adoption of the technologies, the thinking here is that the federal government should instead shift its focus to the bigger picture of what the wider impacts are as the inevitable energy transition takes hold: how will those whose jobs are made unnecessary be retrained and/or propped up, how will we make sure all classes and groups are able to reap the benefits of clean energy (including new jobs), and how will we ensure unintended consequences don’t take hold? These ideas support a focus on a just and equitable transition.

Is it enacted anywhere: According to the Stockholm Environment Institute, some examples of policies in this regard include Canada’s Coal Workforce Transition Fund and Scotland’s Oil Worker Transition Fund.

In Favor of Focusing on a Just Transition:

“Green New Deal type policies that focus on employment and on fair and reliable access to power and transportation will be central to ensuring that the social benefits of a rapid transition to clean energy are widely spread and that the transition is not cut short due to policy opposition” – Eban Goodstein & L. Hunter Lovins, MBA in Sustainability at Bard College

“Climate action has to be just if we expect it to succeed, and given the depth of the inequality crisis, this isn’t easy.  In the US, climate change legislation must find ways to target benefits to low-income communities that have in the past been forgotten. For example, solar jobs have to start paying standard construction wages, come with full benefits, and be the kind of jobs you can actually live on, and many of them have to go to poor inner-city and rural communities that have been overlooked in the past.  Cap and dividend is another example.  It is basically a very progressive device, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for de-regulation.  We need to push in just the opposite direction, and see it is as an opening bid, a baseline for a just transition in how it is able to redistribute wealth to a certain extent.  And it’s not going to be easy to raise the price of energy in a country where half the people can’t come up with $500.  Let alone a world where food insecurity was already going through the roof before the virus hit.  The solar  transition needs to be justice first, or it’s not going to happen at all.” – Tom Athanasiou, Founder of Eco Equity

“The lessons we’re learning from COVID emergency response couldn’t be more starkly and clearly tied to the climate emergency in terms of how vulnerable communities get hit first and hardest.  For example, black communities have the worst air pollution and are getting decimated by COVID in comparison with communities that don’t have that historical legacy of environmental pollution. As governments spend money to fight COVID and fight climate change, we need to build in plans for equity with a goal to stop the historical disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable people and an eye towards to protecting and uplifting those communities.” – Matt Renner, Executive Director at The Climate Mobilization

“Jobs are the biggest piece of renewable energy policy out there today, especially from the frames of economic growth and equity. Environmental policies for so long have been looked at as job killers, but this is an area where there’s a lot of opportunity to put people to work, especially in disadvantaged communities.”– Jennifer Walling, Executive Director of Illinois Environmental Council

“Under the banner of a just transition, we’ve seen some great work to develop things like the RECLAIM Act and include in that the value of community participation in planning for the use of public revenues from the Abandoned Mine Land funds. While imperfectly implemented so far, that was the beginnings of a model for the ways in which you could get a region off the addiction of fossil fuels by combining the environmental reclamation money with community empowerment and participation, as well as job creation. We see a great potential for breaking the idea that its jobs vs. the environment by linking grassroots livelihood and job creation with healing from the fossil fuel damage.” – Betsy Taylor, Director at Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network (LiKEN)

“Equity has to be embedded front and center and immersed in the policy itself. In climate policy equity usually shows up as a section or one consideration of the proposal, but it has to be found in all parts of the proposal rather than siloed. If we’re going to be serious about addressing equity issues, we need to address the root causes that determine who has less and who needs more and so it must impact a policy’s budget, the process, the implementation, the analysis, and everything, otherwise it’s just equity-washing. Equity is not just a commitment. It is a continuous practice of transforming behaviors, institutions, and systems that disproportionately harm people of color. The Transformative Climate Communities Program in California is the best example thus far about how to embed equity into program design for climate mitigation.”– Alvaro Sanchez, Environmental Equity Director, The Greenlining Institute

“In the short-term, efforts to purchase more clean energy and become more energy efficient can come with upfront costs, and so they may have impacts on affordability which we need to address in order to achieve racial equity and clean energy goals at the same time. When we put out calls for volunteers on climate working groups, we ended up realizing that the makeup of the groups was not truly representative of our very diverse community. The groups ended up looking whiter and older than our community as a whole, so we’ve launched a pilot effort called the Resilience Ambassador Program with youth from diverse parts of the county to help collect information, stories, and concerns from people who haven’t been traditionally heard on these issues int he past.” – Adriana Hochberg, Assistant CAO for Montgomery County, Maryland, and Climate Change Coordinator

If you think about the Paycheck Protection Program, there was a big fund to help businesses be able to retain their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there were no criteria or prioritization put into place to guide those funds. It ended up as a first-come-first-serve system that enabled those larger businesses with more resources to prepare for it to get the bulk of the funds, leaving the smaller businesses out. The same principle can be applied to solar incentives, weatherization funds, and other key energy policies. So funds don’t automatically trickle down unless the policies are designed in a way that meet the needs of the people who need them the most.” – Michelle Romero, National Director of Green for All

“The biggest policy that we champion is the Green New Deal. We advocate for it not only because it phases out fossil fuels, but also because it prioritizes black, indigenous, and communities of color with jobs, renewable infrastructure, and investments in healthcare. It’s about really transforming our system socially, economically, and environmentally. In this moment we’re seeing a real compounding of crises: health, racial injustice, the climate crisis, and economic injustice. We see these crises as completely interconnected in order to deliver a more just and equitable world for everyone.” – Denali Nalamalapu, US Communications Specialist at

“Climate change is happening in an already very unequal world. Unless we do something, it’s going to make those inequalities even more stark. In my view, the climate is both a terrifying challenge and an opportunity in the sense that if we mitigate and adapt to it appropriately, we might also be able to create a lot of opportunity and level the playing field between the people and the billionaires.” – Julian Brave Noisecat

“It’s important to make sure the right people are being brought to the table to develop and roll out climate policies and solutions. For far too long, communities of color have been battling environmental injustices, and not been part of the decision-making process and that’s what we need to do now. It’s very important that we reinvest in these communities that have been most impacted, whether it’s a coastal community, a community of color, or another frontline community. We need to make sure we are creating green jobs and investing the revenue from corporate polluter fees towards these groups and communities so that not only are you increasing the economy but you’re directly investing in the communities that have been most impacted.” – Jasmine Sanders, Executive Director at Our Climate

“We’re in the midst of three crises right now, COVID, racial justice, and climate change. We must make real progress on all of them, simultaneously. That’s the job for elected officials at any level of government. Climate change and racial justice are lenses with which we much view all government action.” – Larry Kraft, elected member of the City Council of St. Louis Park, Minnesota who ran on a climate change platform

“Low-income households are the ones who have a greater energy burden to pay for their utility bills. Policies that address this energy burden and make sure energy is more affordable, which can happen via clean energy like solar panels, must be prioritized and relevant incentives must reach low-income and other marginalized communities. Similarly with jobs, we need to make sure that those working in the fossil fuel industry are not being left behind, while also ensuring the workforce in the clean energy industry reflects the diversity of the communities that it serves.”  Paula Garcia, Senior Bilingual Energy Analyst at The Union of Concerned Scientists

“We can’t just turn our back on fossil fuels because the livelihoods of many Americans depend on the fossil fuel economy, and we need to acknowledge and respect that. Just transition plans need to recognize the fact that many people in rural communities have their income and livelihood depend on fossil fuel extraction and combustion, and we need to be aware of that in our transition.” – Lauren Gifford, Faculty, Metropolitan State University of Denver

“Not only do we need to bring a diversity of resident voices to the table. we need to give them the table. Tempe is walking the talk with our Equity in Action program, where we fund environmental justice organizations to seek their expert advice and to engage the people they are organizing to bring climate change solutions to the fore. We’re collaborating with justice groups in our decision-making, because the decisions we make on the City Council have generational impacts and BIPOC communities are disproportionally harmed by climate-change impacts.” – Lauren Kuby, Councilmember in Tempe, Arizona

A Green New Deal must be grounded in a just transition framework which provides a suite of climate policies that have redistributive outcomes. A job Guarantee and Universal Health Care are classic examples. Equity policies are climate policies.  Communities and workers need social safety nets to help absorb the economic and social shocks of climate-induced impacts, and already existing inequities. Staying under 1.5C of warming necessitates an economy-wide transformation within the US, of which means instituting policies akin to the basic social safety nets that already exists in most European and high-incoming countries” – Noel Healy, Salem State University

“There’s a much larger problem in the relationship between inequality and environmental collapse. If you look at a graph showing the increase in inequality in the U.S. over the last 50 years and post beside graphs showing the growth in carbon emissions and the collapse of biodiversity, you would find that they match pretty well. The solutions to the climate crisis are not going to be found without also paying attention to the increased inequality and the large number of people who feel forgotten and left out.” – Dianne Saxe, Saxe Facts

“When you want to push for real clean energy in an equitable way, corporations usually come in offer up market-based “solutions” like cap and trade or carbon pricing that are better for their bottom line, but it’s not good for those who live near polluting sources or who are left behind with old, crumbling infrastructure. Take, for example, low-income families that are more likely to live in old buildings with poor ventilation and use gas for heating and cooking. This leads to health issues that inequitably affect them. Or those who live next to oil drilling and refineries and constantly exposed to outdoor air pollution. To fight that, we need to embrace a Green New Deal that is equitable and we must put indigenous communities and people of color front and center. If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu. Our communities have been on the menu for far too long and they need a seat at the table. When we think about electrifying transportation and homes, we need to think about how to do it in an equitable way, and communities who have been poisoned by industry need to benefit first.” – Andrea Leon-Grossmann, Azul 

Against Focusing on a Just Transition:

“What many experts call false hopes for a coal resurgence have mired economic development efforts here in a catch-22: Coal miners are resisting retraining without ready jobs from new industries, but new companies are unlikely to move here without a trained workforce. The stalled diversification push leaves some of the nation’s poorest areas with no clear path to prosperity.” – Valerie Volvcovici, Reuters

Read more:

The Ecosystem of Networks Advancing a Just Energy Transition- Climate Justice Alliance

Realizing a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels – Stockholm Environment Institute

A global energy transition is happening; let’s make it just, fair and equitable – World Wildlife Fund


Focusing on Smart Growth

smart growth progress climate change

What is it: Recognizing the need for smart growth and perhaps a focus on a new kind of metrics comes down to simple physics. The planet is only so large, there are only so many natural resources to grow around, and as global populations continue to boom there will be a theoretical point where our global needs exceed what’s actually achievable and possible. Since the Industrial Revolution, it can be argued, a consistent goal of leaders across the world has been on continued (and even accelerating) economic growth, but such a model is only sustainable for so long, and part of the environmental and climate issues we’re going to be facing is when those goals are not realistic and climate policies could potentially be pushing back on them by design. Climate policy that focuses on smart growth recognizes this inevitability and seeks to frame the discussion in a more productive point before then.

Is it enacted anywhere: Climate change and the need for sustainable development are inextricably linked in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, where the organization notes: “For many, a warming climatic system is expected to impact the availability of basic necessities like fresh water, food security, and energy, while efforts to redress climate change, both through adaptation and mitigation, will similarly inform and shape the global development agenda. The links between climate change and sustainable development are strong. Poor and developing countries, particularly least developed countries, will be among those most adversely affected and least able to cope with the anticipated shocks to their social, economic and natural systems.”

In Favor of Focusing on Smart Growth:

“We propose to model the idea of sustainability in the following way: To ask, “What is the maximal growth rate of human welfare that could be sustained indefinitely, taking into account the effect that carbon emissions have on people’s welfare?” We model human welfare as being a function of what people consume, their level of education, the amount of leisure time they have, how much knowledge has been produced in society, and the quality of the biosphere.” – Mike Cummings, YaleNews

“The most important solution is straightforward to us, and that’s including a focus on the steady state economy with a stabilized population and per-capita consumption because as long as the overriding domestic policy goal is economic growth, there will be fossil fuel consumption in that pursuit. The only hope to get off of fossil fuels and their greenhouse gas emissions is to recognize that, at this point in the 21st century, perpetual economic growth has become a stupid goal that is pulling out the rug from our kids and our grandkids, and even ourselves.” — Brian Czech, Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE)

Against Focusing on Smart Growth:

“The technology is available to have faster economic growth while reducing over-all emissions,” Trevor Houser, the head of Rhodium Group’s energy and climate team, and one of the authors of the report, told me. But the switch to nuclear and renewables needs to happen more rapidly. “It takes policy. It won’t happen through markets alone,” Houser said. – ‘The False Choice Between Economic Growth and Combatting Climate Change, The New Yorker article by Carolyn Kormann

Read more:

Sustainable development through climate action – Nature Climate Change

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development, 13: Climate Action – United Nations Sustainability Council

Climate Change, Capitalism and Degrowth Trajectories to a Global Steady-State Economy – International Critical Thought


Improving Education in Climate Change and Sciences Generally

Student Organizations | Computer Science

What is it: A challenge in getting more widespread support for many of the potential climate change policies discussed implemented comes from a general lack of understanding of the science of climate change, energy systems, and other related subjects. When opponents want to frame potential climate action as unnecessary or even harmful, doing so is much more easily achieved with a less scientifically literate population. Given that, among the most important bigger picture policies that politicians can and should be pushing for the future of climate action is to ensure educational curriculums include sufficient coverage of the science of climate, climate change, earth science, and energy-related topics. Improving general level science education, as well, will better prepare the leaders and voters of tomorrow to have the tools necessary to understand and act on climate change.

Is it enacted anywhere: In the United States, New Jersey became the first state to incorporate climate change in the curriculum from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, which is set to take effect in 2021 and 2022. As Governor Phil Murphy noted, “This generation of students will feel the effects of climate change more than any other, and it is critical that every student is provided an opportunity to study and understand the climate crisis through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary lens.”

In Favor of Improving Education in Climate Change and Sciences Generally:

“The traditional high school science curriculum is biology, chemistry, and physics, in that order. That means that classes like earth science or environmental science are rarer. So even in states with a good treatment of climate change in science standards, the classes in which climate change would be most thoroughly presented are not offered as often. The result is that the last place that most students can expect to get a formal introduction to climate change is middle school science. To fix that, reform is really going to have to come from states, as federal policies don’t set curriculum.” – Glenn Branch, Deputy Director of National Center for Science Education

Against Improving Education in Climate Change and Science Generally:

Republican Sen. Jeff Monroe, argued it’s a matter of balance and critical inquiry. He said he heard from educators seeking more latitude because they feel pressured under state standards to teach primarily one view on scientific theories such as climate change. “All I want is for them to be able to show the strengths and weaknesses of the theory, whatever they’re talking about,” and for state law to outline that allowance, Monroe said.

Read more:

The role of education in propelling climate action – The Commonwealth Education Hub

Climate Change Education: Essential Information for Educators – National Education Association

How to implement climate change education in schools – Study International


This page is a part of the Solar Tribune Series on how individuals and policymakers can tackle climate change. Click here to see the overview of this series and see the other categories of action.

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