There have been a fair number of mainstream news articles expressing concern that the many promised green collar jobs created with stimulus funding are not appearing. These pieces often follow a certain hackneyed formula, citing a huge dollar figure from legislation passed earlier this year and then pointing to the fact that only a few workers have been hired. There are a number of problems with these reports that should cause readers to reserve their judgment on how the green jobs effort is going.
Let’s look at the latest worry fest over green-collar jobs at the New York Times (“Elusive Goal of Greening U.S. Energy“). The piece starts by questioning the very premise of green jobs, calling green jobs just a ‘mantra’ at one point but then, at the end, suggesting we’re not doing enough to create them. Using the Times piece as an example, I want to point out at least three things to keep in mind when reading any of these kinds of stories.
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First, green collar jobs are going to come from more than just the renewable energy sector. This latest piece doesn’t define the clean energy jobs sector broadly enough, missing the potential from energy efficiencies (1.7 million potential jobs) entirely. As new approaches to providing efficiency develop, the prospect for workers is bright. In addition to being a more affordable way to create more green jobs, a recent study (Greener Pathways: Job and Workforce Development in the Clean Energy Economy) found that “energy efficiency not only offsets more greenhouse gas emissions than renewables and alternative fuels combined, it is a new energy strategy that generates significant numbers of domestic jobs.” So when reading critiques about the promise of green-collar jobs always consider whether the article accounts for the full scope of the potential of clean energy, from windmills to retrofits. The Greener Pathways report is full of useful data and charts like the one below on jobs in energy efficiency.
Second, nobody said that creating green-collar jobs would be easy or fast. As I wrote in a recent post, creating a clean-energy economy is perhaps one of the greatest challenges and opportunities the nation has faced in a generation. Creating jobs while reducing emissions, saving energy and preventing poverty in an economy with multiple split and perverse incentives is not going to take months, but years. But there are good projects getting started in our region and, as I suggested, it is better to get it right than get it right now.
Third, take a good look at our Green Jobs Messaging Guide and consider the storyline being taken by the article and the people being quoted. Is the story focused on a few jobs that didn’t get created in one sector in one town? Or does it focus on the broader data being collected? Critical stories are usually focused on things that haven’t happened rather than what has. That was my concern about the recent Oregonian article about the Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program.
Finally, close scrutiny of projects and programs is really useful. I was reminded by someone from Alaska recently that although the Home Energy Rebate Program managed by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation is a really good program, it may not be reaching many rural, off-road parts of the state that are in most need of retrofits. I loved the program model but it isn’t perfect. And learning from the weaknesses and shortcomings of a program is just as important as highlighting its strengths. We can learn from both failure and success as people work to advance the agenda of green jobs anchored in an economy that is focused on conserving energy, creating more sustainable sources of energy, and getting families and businesses off the fossil fuel roller coaster.
What is less helpful is looking at one or two programs that are struggling and calling green-collar jobs a ‘fad’ or a ‘mantra’ without careful analysis of the bigger picture. Furthermore, we know that the transition to better sources of energy is a long trip on sometimes unfamiliar pathways. The question we all should be asking is how do we get from here to there?