Since the economic crisis hit, greenies have been worrying that climate emissions reduction programs will be dragged back under the table in an effort to keep costs low during this time of hardship. Though it’s true that clean tech investments are taking a plunge in light of the crisis, environmentalists shouldn’t fret just yet. With any luck, government officials and private investors may start to see that keeping the green movement going could actually improve the economy.

Take for instance a new study to be released this Monday. It found that California’s green policies have actually had a surprising effect on the economy—they helped it. According to a New York Times piece, the study, which focused on household spending, found that while the state’s green-leaning policies (like improved energy efficiency standards for both large appliances and residential and commercial buildings) lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry about $1.6 billion, it improved overall compensation in the state by more than $40 billion.

The shift in funds is partly because California’s per-capita demand for electricity is 40 percent below the national average (due to increased energy efficiency). It turns out that when Californian’s aren’t forced to fork over so much of their income for utility bills, they have more of it left over to spend in other industries, which then helps these industries to grow.

The study also found that these energy-efficiency policies, which were put in place in 1978, also created more jobs—about 1.5 million—between 1977 and 2007, while only eliminating fewer than 25,000.

Future projections are also looking good for the Sunshine State. California’s Air Resources Board recently reported that the state’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 12 years is expected to benefit California's economy and save its residents money, according to an article by the Center for a New American Dream. These efforts are part of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. It also found that the state’s economy would grow faster than if it did nothing to reduce emissions, a sobering fact that other cities should keep in mind when looking to cut costs this year.

Additionally, the proposed changes in the global warming act are expected to result in 100,000 new jobs, boost the state economy by $27 billion, and increase personal income by $14 billion.

But how will this act affect regular Americans like Joe Sixpack? Good question. The study found that individual households would save about $400 a year because of improvements in energy efficiency. Plus, per capita income would rise by $200, according to the article. Sounds like California Joe might be upgrading to a twelve-pack soon.

Hopefully these results will encourage others to follow California’s lead, and actually keep environmental advances rolling along instead of halting them because of a faltering economy. At the very least, the studies illustrate how green policies like increased energy efficiency can actually be a boon to the overall economic environment by saving us more money to buy the finer things in life—you know, like food.

Story by Jessica A. Knoblauch. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2008.

California gains green while going green
Though it's true that clean tech investments are taking a plunge in light of the economic crisis, environmentalists shouldn't fret just yet.