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Opinion | How to Turn a Red State Green

One word: jobs.

Full-time, well-paying jobs. And not just the 11,000 permanent jobs at the two new manufacturing sites, but also thousands upon thousands of construction and infrastructure jobs to build and maintain the huge campuses. Bob Rolfe, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, estimates that the West Tennessee site alone will create about 33,000 construction jobs, along with some 27,000 corollary jobs once the complex is fully operational.

It’s nice that the plants are an investment in a green future, in other words, but that’s not the reason leaders in Tennessee and Kentucky are doing cartwheels. In investing $11.4 billion in electric vehicles and bringing those jobs to Tennessee and Kentucky, the Ford Motor Co. has inadvertently invented a perfect laboratory experiment in how to turn the red states green.

When money is on the line, politicians have always been willing to jettison positions they have stated loudly, for the record, over the course of years. Ms. Blackburn was also thrilled in 2019 when Volkswagen announced it was making the Chattanooga plant its North American base for manufacturing electric vehicles, adding 1,000 jobs. She was thrilled again when the battery company Microvast announced earlier this year that it was setting up shop in Clarksville, bringing almost 300 jobs to Tennessee, and when General Motors announced it would build a battery plant in Spring Hill, bringing another 1,300 jobs. The G.M. announcement came on the heels of yet another announcement that it would be building its new electric S.U.V. in Spring Hill.

These electric car and battery plants are just the most visible manifestation of the green future that is coming, even in the reddest of red states. It doesn’t matter in the least whether Republicans like it. As with the Ford Motor Co., they can participate in and profit from it, or they can get left behind. And they are finally showing signs that they don’t wish to be left behind.

All deathbed conversions smack of hypocrisy, and this level of overt hypocrisy is almost unbelievable. Green technology is economically viable today only because Democrats seeded this field years ago. Obama-era funding for clean energy research and electric vehicles, for example, is a key reason for growth in those sectors during even the environmentally hostile Trump years. Red-state politicians have worked unceasingly to subvert policies that created the very economic harvest they are now reaping themselves. It is truly nothing less than enraging.

But rage, no matter how justified, should not obscure the real point here. The point is for human behavior to change in time to save this gorgeous, teeming, irreplaceable, suffering planet. Deathbed conversions happen because time has run out, and our time has run out.

If even dug-in science deniers such as Marsha Blackburn and Mitch McConnell can come around on climate issues when they are convinced that doing so would benefit their constituents in visible and measurable ways, then it’s conceivable that an environmentally sound future is possible even in regions now tightly tethered to fossil fuels. It’s even conceivable that renewable energy could cease to be a political issue and become simply a common-sense strategy for a country that doesn’t want to run the planet into the ground.

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