Has Touting Green Jobs Been A Mistake?


photo: UO Power Shift 09 via flickr

In trying to convince the nation that passing climate legislation and promoting renewable energy are both good policy, the job creation aspect has undoubtedly been front and center, sometimes seemingly eclipsing the environmental benefits. But has promoting green jobs really been the best policy? Recent comments by California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, quoted in Climate Progess, got me thinking all the green jobs focus has been a mistake. Whitman said,

While green jobs are an important and growing part of our state's economic future, we cannot forget the other 97% of jobs in key sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, transportation and energy. We compete for jobs with many other states and our environmental policy must reflect that reality.

Leave aside for the moment the effect that renewable energy and climate legislation will have on these sectors (I'll get to that), but in continually touting green jobs too often we've unwittingly set up an opposition and point of conflict that doesn't need to be there. In fact it creates an entry to a conflict that is at least partially fictional. It also opens the door to asking "where are all the green jobs" and pointless debate about whether or not a particular job is really a green job or not--though it is true that some jobs are greener than others. Furthermore, it subtly reinforce the perception, incorrect as it may be, that the environmental movement wants to take over the country.

Getting back to those other 97% of jobs Whitman refers to: The fact of the matter is that if you take a perspective longer term than the next one or two election cycles, any short term hiccups caused by meeting more stringent environmental and energy standards are outweighed by the longer term benefits.

Each of the key sectors Whitman mentions are intimately dependent on adequate energy and water supplies. Analysis of climate change, energy and resource use trends all point to critical bottlenecks in conventional supplies of these that can be avoided entirely or at least mitigated by pushing strong climate policy and strong environmental policy.

Specific to manufacturing: Recent reports to Congress show that absent strong national renewables legislation, more Asian nations than China are going to be soon clobbering the US in this area, both in manufacturing and technological innovation. It's domestic US inaction that is crippling international competitiveness here.

Specific to agriculture: Recent reports on the increasing rate of groundwater withdrawal only highlight the growing water scarcity issues in some of California's prime growing regions. Whether in the Central Valley or more broadly across the nation, failure to act on renewable energy (and therefore climate change) only further threatens this.

In total, failure to enact legislation that promotes industries heretofore classified as green really hurts the economy more broadly. You can't separate green from non-green except at a granular level of detail that obscures the bigger picture.

Failure to emphasize this, continued failure to drive home the interconnectedness of the different economic sectors at every opportunity, hammering home the notion that all economic activity is a subset of a functioning, reasonably intact environment (and not the other way around as is conventionally taught), just allows industrial interests whose further profits depend on pollution to continue distracting the American public with political slight of hand.

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More on Green Jobs:
How to Get Green Jobs and Beat the Recession Blues
Stimulus Bill Created Nearly 1 Million Green Jobs: CEA Report
Green Jobs: Now Better Paying Than Non-Green Jobs
Is Creating Green Jobs a "Sensible Aspiration" For Governments

Tags: Global Climate Change | Green Jobs | Renewable Energy | United States