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A Just Transition Needs a Job Guarantee

A job guarantee is necessary both for managing the disruptions wrought by global warming and for achieving a smooth, just transition to a low-carbon economy. And since the policy is also wildly popular, it should be a no-brainer for any politician who claims to be serious about tackling the climate crisis.

NEW YORK – The climate crisis will wipe out millions of jobs long before the feared robots do. It is estimated that heat stress alone will eliminate the equivalent of 80 million full-time jobs by 2030, not counting those lost as a result of wildfires, floods, storms, and other extreme weather events. These will come on the heels of the historically unprecedented 255 million job losses globally in 2020. With recent developments having thrown predictive climate models off their scale, the odds are that expected climate-related employment losses have also been underestimated.

This year’s brutal summer should have made it clear that no place, person, or job is safe from the ravages of climate change. Yet, economists in the United States have been fretting over an “overheating” economy, deliberating whether policymakers should tighten credit conditions and clip the pace of employment and income growth in order to fight price increases stemming from supply-chain bottlenecks and sectoral disruptions. Working families thus face the threat of not one but two heat waves: the bankrupt orthodox view that inflation must be fought with unemployment, and the looming job losses from global warming.

A job guarantee is an antidote to both. It is a public-employment policy that ensures a decent job at a family-sustaining wage, with benefits, to any person who needs one, and it performs this function in a way that tempers inflationary pressures. It is also the clearest answer to the international consensus, enshrined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, that any climate action must uphold a commitment to “the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities.”

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