Obama's Jobs Speech: Where's the Green?

Last night, Obama laid out his ambitious plan to put America back to work. In my opinion, it should have looked something like this: Chock full of renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure public works projects, and tax credits to nonpolluting businesses who hired the previously unemployed. Would have been cool, right? Alas, Obama's plan included nothing of the sort, and the president didn't even mention the words 'energy', 'efficiency', 'climate' or the like in the entire speech. He instead opted for a plan rooted largely in tax cuts for small businesses and the middle class, and some spending that would create jobs repairing and building infrastructure.

In reality, here's the impact Obama's jobs program would likely have on the environment: Very little. If anything, the plan would mostly likely have a detrimental impact -- that is, if it somehow manages to pass a hyper-partisan Congress. But let's make a quick assessment of what it would do.

The Good:
--Eliminate oil subsidies to help pay its way. Removing these subsidies is an important step in leveling the playing field for clean energy technologies.
--Funding for the construction sector could feasibly go towards energy efficiency retrofits.
--Some infrastructure investment in rail and public transportation.

The Bad:
--However, any infrastructure funding for rail is almost certain to be vastly outstripped by planned investment in highways, bridges, and roads. The plan would feed sprawl at a time when oil prices are becoming ever more volatile, and some suburbs are already trending towards becoming slums.

The Ugly:
The truth is, there's really not too much to say about the bill, especially on the green front. Especially considering that Republican opposition to the plan will almost certainly prevent it from becoming a reality. Nonetheless, some green groups wanted to hear more clean energy provisions -- where's the green? -- while others respected Obama's decision to keep his agenda as bipartisan as possible.

Economists disagree on just how many jobs the plan would actually create -- analyses range from "it might not stimulate very much even in the short term" (Sachs) to "it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment". (Krugman)

And the even uglier truth is, we pollute less and emit fewer greenhouse gases when the economy isn't expanding at a booming rate. In other words, the neoliberal economic model that global capitalism adheres to dictates that the planet's better off when millions of people are unemployed. This catch-22 has led many economists to search for other "anti-growth" models that could feasibly keep those people employed without a perpetually thundering GDP. Now, of course, would be an ideal time for such an experiment ...

Tags: Barack Obama | United States

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