Where's That Green Jobs Revolution Obama Promised?


Photo credit: US Navy

When Obama first came into office in 2009, he did so on the back of a promise to usher in a green jobs revolution of sorts -- with an intent to employ 5 million people in sectors like clean energy and efficiency improvement retrofitting. And while he did manage to secure the largest sum of funding for clean energy research and green initiatives in the stimulus bill that year, needless to say, no such 'revolution' has happened. Strides have been made, but 10% of the nation is still unemployed, and clean energy -- though growing faster than most other industries -- remains relatively small-scale. So what happened? Politico offers an unsatisfying take:

President Barack Obama heads to an energy plant in North Carolina on Monday to talk once again about the job-creating power of a green economy. The catch? Nearly three years into Obama's presidency, the White House can't point to much solid evidence that significant numbers of Americans are scoring the green jobs the president has been touting.

Monthly Labor Department employment reports say nothing about the new clean energy workforce, while an effort to document how many Americans actually make a living in the "green collar" field may not be done by November 2012. Obama's Council of Economic Advisers suggests 225,000 clean energy jobs were either created or preserved through the third quarter of 2010 thanks to more than $80 billion in the economic stimulus package. But those are estimates at best.

Politico's article is rather silly, because the 'lack of evidence' it refers to in the lede isn't due to a lack of actual green job creation, but lack of good statistics. By the CEA's count, the stimulus created or saved around one million jobs in its first year. And there's no doubt that tax relief for green projects is helping spur the boom in cleantech -- and making it one of the nation's fastest-growing industries.

But there is a reason that we haven't seen the kind of 'Green New Deal' that many were hoping for to help get the nation's unemployed back to work and nascent clean energy industry kicked into high gear -- a lack of adequate, sustained funding. Top economists (even some of Obama's advisers) routinely called for a larger stimulus package back in 2009, and Obama didn't heed them -- largely due to immense pushback from the GOP, which was overwhelmingly opposed to the idea. Like the rest of the stimulus, the green jobs initiatives included in it were simply too small to make any transition towards a cleaner economy seem palpable.

So despite consistent gains and progress in the sector, those gains never felt front and center to the American public. And they simply weren't big enough drastically alter the nation's employment picture. If we want green jobs to take root, we're going to have to either a) direct a major, sustained boost of stimulus investment in cleantech, building efficiency, and renewable energy sectors or b) price carbon. Stripping subsidies from fossil fuel companies would help. Barring that, we won't be seeing that green jobs revolution anytime soon.

Tags: Barack Obama | Green Jobs | United States

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