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Green Jobs: Myth or Reality? A New 3p Series

RP Siegel | Thursday September 30th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Back in August, I ran a post-mortem on our failed energy bill, wondering how those bleepety-bleep senators could be so lame or so corrupt. How could they fail to act in the face of such pressing news about the climate? If you look at what they said, they did what they often do, they used the economy as an excuse, playing on fears of further unemployment, ignoring the fact that investment in green technology has been creating new jobs at a rate almost three times that of the rest of the economy.

Jim Tankersley wrote in the LA Times, that it was all about jobs. Citing Exelon utility CEO John Rowe, he said, “The argument that climate legislation would create jobs did not get traction in the Senate.” Rowe went on to say, “It’s kind of the tangible and countable versus the less tangible and harder to see. But there really are jobs in renewables, and there certainly will be jobs in new technologies. You just can’t say, ‘this will put 1,000 boilermakers to work tomorrow.’ ”

That got me to thinking. What is the real story of Green Jobs? Is it just a convenient idea that promises to kill two birds (climate change and unemployment) with one stone? And what is a green job anyway? We get this picture of guys on a rooftop installing solar panels, always on a sunny day. Great. But will there really be millions of those? What else constitutes a green job? If my company decides to become green, does my job then suddenly become a green job? So I decided to put together a series of posts on Green Jobs, which kicks off right here. Hopefully the posts that follow will answer some of those questions.

You will hear from a number of esteemed authors and experts on the subject, as well as the occasional two cents worth from me. It will run through the month of October.

So before we jump into the question of Green Jobs at this critical time, in the middle of this jobless recession, maybe we should ask the question, what happened to all of those other color jobs, anyway?

Mijin Cha, one of our guest columnists from Urban Agenda says, it’s not about the jobs so much per se, as it is about the amount of work. Okay, so is less work being done today on behalf of the American people, or is it the same amount or more, just being done by fewer people, or perhaps I should say, by fewer Americans? Or is the same amount of work being done on behalf of fewer Americans (those who still have money)?

Kevin Drum writes in Mother Jones that the problem is not so much about job loss as it is about a lack of job creation. In the decade from 2000-2009, there was exactly 0% job creation. Compare this with the previous six decades in which an average of 48% job growth occurred (with the lowest being 34.9% in the 80’s). Drum attributes this to a falloff in small business activity, given that small business is generally considered to be the engine of job creation. Small businesses floundered because of the enormous number of consolidations (courtesy of deregulation) that have created a marketplace in which only a few mega-players now dominate every sector. This provides far fewer clients for small businesses to serve. It also hampers the ability of small businesses to bring new products to market especially in conjunction with the newer, weaker patent protections. What this means, in essence, is that our best and brightest entrepreneurs, the same type of people who were starting up today’s Fortune 500 companies in their basements and garages, thirty, forty, fifty years ago, are now spending much more of their time in the courtroom, instead of the laboratory, trying to sue their way into the market. Need I add, that this is just the way that the highly paid lobbyists who, working for those same mega-players to get those laws tweaked, want it.

But that’s not where all the jobs went. Just pick up any item you’ve purchased recently, flip it over and look at the tag on the bottom and you’ll see where many of those jobs went. Roughly half of our current unemployment rate is due to jobs being moved overseas, where wages are lower and the rules which protect things like workers rights and the environment are far looser. We all bought into this move in our pursuit of more stuff at lower prices. Henry Ford recognized that by paying his workers decent wages, he would contribute to the creation of a middle class that would buy his products. That was long term thinking, something that seems to be in short supply today, thanks largely due to pressure brought to bear by Wall Street. Today’s managers are running that tape in reverse, paying less and less for labor as they watch the market for their products collapse. Now the only things most Americans can afford to buy is the cheap stuff and the only place to get the cheap stuff made is overseas.

It’s time for a change. We need to change our employment practices. We need more jobs. We need new ways to power our home and businesses. We need a more efficient system of transportation. We need to revitalize our infrastructure and strip out the waste that was lazily put it in, lulled by artificially low energy prices. There is a convergence happening here and if we are to survive, we need to seize the opportunity it presents. There is plenty of work to be done, right here, by American workers; and doing those jobs right now just might save our economy and our planet.

I hope you will enjoy our series on Green Jobs. Please follow along on the main green jobs series page. Incidentally, there are still a few open slots. If you’d like to contribute a guest column, please reply to this post, identifying yourself and your topic and provide a way to get in touch with you.

RP Siegel is co-author of Vapor TrailsLike airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though can we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

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  • 2wheeler2

    The waste that was built into the infrastructure: It is mind boggling that electrical generation losses result in conversion inefficiences trom therms to joules approaching 50% before the electron leaves the coal fired power plant. Then transmission and power conversion losses eat another healthy chunk through waste heat.

    Why are corporations chasing cheap labor instead of sharpening their efficiencies at energy sourcing and utilization? In many industrial production processes, energy is a #1 or #2 cost. Why are more companies with furnace operations not doing CHP cogeneration? Instead they are talking about solar panels on the roofs to power the lighting. a 5% solution at best.

    It seems to me that sustainability will only be approached when ALL jobs have green integrated into their activities, and when the triple bottom line is integrated into each corporate, government and nonprofit business plan.

    Unfortunately that hasn’t been the way progress has been defined, measured and reported. GDP is a broken metric when oil spill response costs are viewed as a positive component. Tax laws are broken when such activities can be written off.

    I look forward to more in this series.

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  • http://www.thegreenjobbank.com Bernard

    The US Bureau of Labor Statistics just came up with a definition of green jobs, as part of an $8 million project to define and quantify green jobs.
    See http://www.thegreenjobbank.com/stories/us-bureau-of-labor-statistics-publishes-definition-of-green-jobs.

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