Energy Innovation Should Trump Job Creation

Tue, 06/23/2009 - 6:22am
Saul Kaplan
Editor's Note: I don't think the issue of development in "green" jobs and technology is as chicken-and-egg as the article implies. What do you think? 

(Business Week) - Across the country, it is hard to find an elected official who hasn't jumped on the green economy bandwagon. So many stump speeches marry the policy objectives of saving the environment and creating jobs. It starts at the top: President Barack Obama has promised to spend $150 billion over 10 years to create 5 million green-collar jobs. Like a human wave at a sporting event, Americans are cheering for the green economy to bring us out of our economic funk and solve global warming and foreign energy dependence, all at the same time.

Of course, we have serious work to do in these important policy areas. The threat of climate change is real and we must act now. Transforming our national energy system will require broad public support and collaborative innovation across sectors. The current economic crisis is a wakeup call for our country to become more competitive by strengthening our education and workforce development systems and committing ourselves to a national innovation agenda. While there is overlap and potential synergy between energy and economic policies, I worry we will accomplish neither if we treat them as one big policy mashup.

Our national energy conversation has been subsumed by the frenzy over green jobs. That's understandable considering our unemployment rate of 9.4% and the many middle- and lower-income people who see no upside in the global-warming and energy-independence causes. A narrative that claims we will replace all of the lost blue-collar jobs with new green-collar jobs plays much better. But it is important to ask whether these millions of green jobs are real and whether a jobs argument can enable the transformations we need on the energy front.

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