07 November 2008

Fuzzy Math? Some See Unrealistic Numbers in Obama 5M Green Jobs Promise

President-elect Obama has an ambitious plan to create 5 M "green jobs" with an investment of 150 B over the next ten years.

Under the current definition, green jobs include insulation and solar panel installers, wind-turbine manufacturers and green building construction workers, as well as infrastructure jobs such as those associated with the electrical grid and rail mass transit.

But some, according to the Wall Street Journal, are questioning the numbers in the plan.

And as Congress considers an additional economic stimulus package that may include green jobs, there could be even more debate -- especially from those most influenced by traditional energy lobbies.

"The green-jobs argument," WSJ reports, "rests on the notion that big capital investments in new-energy technology today will be more than offset by savings in reduced fossil-fuel costs. Though oil prices have fallen, the International Energy Agencyy predicted Thursday that once the economy picks up again, they will resume climbing, potentially topping $200 a barrel by 2030. The IEA called the current energy system 'patently unsustainable' and called for 'radical action by governments.'"

Some argue that 5 M is not a net number; that, in fact, some of these green jobs will merely supplant other jobs in the traditional energy economy or that green job gains will be "more than offset" by job losses elsewhere in the economy.

But whether we're talking 1, 2, 3 or 5 million jobs seems to miss the point.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, "private sector payroll employment has fallen by 1,825,000, or 1.6%, since October 2000, the month when unemployment began to rise." This is, according to EPI, "a slightly greater decline than in the 'jobless recovery' of the early 1990s."

The point is an influx of capital into potential job creation in a new and emerging sector is going to be a better stimulus than rescuing failed banks and promoting business as usual. And certainly a better idea than rewarding auto-manufacturers for their failed vision by bailing them out too.

"The added allure of clean-energy spending as economic stimulus is that the industry is relatively young and growing fast," writes Jeffrey Ball in WSJ. "Unlike the fossil-fuel industry, which has matured over decades, it is just starting to build its basic infrastructure -- wind turbines, solar panels and a more-sophisticated electric-transmission grid."

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