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Obama’s tackling of climate change will help N.C. economy

By John B. Robbins
Special to the Observer

There are many reasons President Obama is right to address climate change, and address it now.

Rising oceans. Severe storms like Superstorm Sandy. Droughts, wildfires and global temperatures that just keep rising.

But there’s another big reason why his plans to cut carbon pollution from power plants, increase energy efficiency and increase our supplies of clean, renewable energy is needed right now: For the good of our economy.

Don’t believe naysayers in the fossil fuel industry and beyond who want to pretend that the way to grow our economy is by continuing to pump unlimited amounts of pollution into our air while rolling back efforts to produce more clean, renewable energy.

Innovation and finding better ways to produce the goods and services we need has always been at the core of our economic growth.

At a time when many industries are still struggling, clean energy businesses have created more than 21,100 jobs and injected $1.7 billion into North Carolina’s economy, according to research by RTI International. The state is No. 5 for solar development, and was No. 2 in clean energy and clean transportation job announcements last year, according to the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Putting common-sense limits on carbon pollution also will help protect some our state’s biggest industries – tourism and outdoor recreation.

Last year, visitors spent a record $19.4 billion in North Carolina. The outdoor recreation industry, which includes hunting and fishing, pumped an additional $7.5 billion into the state’s economy.

Our clean air, clean water and unparalleled natural resources make us attractive. Continuing to pump carbon pollution unabated into our air puts that at risk.

Carbon pollution also puts our health at risk, and sucks billions out of our economy to pay for health-care costs related to pollution-induced asthma, premature heart attacks, strokes and other health problems.

Already, North Carolina is 13th worst in terms of total carbon dioxide emissions, according to EPA figures. Our state’s air is already dirtier than South Carolina, Tennessee and bigger states ranging from New Jersey to California.

Will people keep visiting North Carolina, keep relocating their companies here, keep moving here, if we keep polluting our state by leaving carbon emissions unchecked?

Lastly, let’s not forget the costs of extreme weather related to carbon pollution and climate change.

Cleaning up after extreme weather disasters cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100 billion last year. For a glimpse at what stronger storm and more frequent hurricanes caused by climate change might do our coastal communities, we only need to look to New Jersey, where Sandy caused an estimated $30 billion in losses.

Anybody who cares about our state, our health, our environment – and our economy – should welcome and support President Obama’s plans to finally get serious about climate change.

John B. Robbins is the owner of Greathorn Properties, Inc. and vice chair of the N.C. Wildlife Federation.
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