The following column appeared in Tuesday's Boston Globe:
By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist
How much green can you make off a green job?
Since the 1970s, California's energy-efficiency programs have created 1.5 million jobs, increased payrolls by $45 billion, and yielded $56 billion in energy savings that went toward other consumer spending, according to a University of California at Berkeley study. David Roland-Holst, the study's author, said the state's new mandates to curb greenhouse gases and further efficiency measures will add 400,000 green jobs, $48 billion in household income, and $76 billion to the state's domestic product by 2020.
"If the country can follow California's example, it will have a dramatic effect on our future emissions and energy independence," Roland-Holst told the Associated Press.
There have been several attempts to project what this would look like nationally. The US Conference of Mayors said an economy that shifts to generating 40 percent of its electricity from wind, solar, biomass, and other fuels will generate 4.2 million green jobs by 2038. The Apollo Alliance coalition of environmentalists and business leaders says a $500 billion investment over the next 10 years will create 5 million green-collar jobs. The alliance says the $50-billion-a-year average "is a smaller share of our gross domestic product than what we spent on the original Apollo program" to go to the moon. "It is one-third the amount that we spend each year in Iraq."
At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the Political Economy Research Institute is a bit more conservative, but still estimates an impressive net increase of 2.5 million green jobs over the next 10 years for an investment of $150 billion a year. Institute co-director Robert Pollin testified last month before the House select committee on energy independence and global warming - chaired by Ed Markey of Massachusetts - that the jobs could be created with the same kind of cash that President Bush plowed into those $600 stimulus checks (remember them?).
"It is actually very simple to think about," Pollin said by telephone yesterday. "For the most part we are talking about construction and manufacturing, retrofitting buildings, improving the electrical grid, boosting public transportation. Then, once you get the energy savings, then there is a lot of money around to spend on other things, instead of spending more on importing oil from Saudi Arabia. The money can go elsewhere in the American economy."
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has made a pledge of 5 million green jobs a staple of his stump speech, calling them "jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced; jobs building solar panels and wind turbines and fuel-efficient cars; jobs that will help us end our dependence on oil from Middle East dictators." What is unclear to researchers like Pollin is how Obama will get there if he is elected. Obama's pledge to spend $15 billion a year to create such jobs is well short of the annual investment estimates of Pollin and the Apollo Alliance. Also unclear is how Obama's pledge will weather the economic storms waiting for him.
"When I was testifying, someone suggested we can't do this because we're in a financial crisis," Pollin said. "We have to do this precisely because we're in a financial crisis. I just watched Ben Bernanke (the Federal Reserve chairman) call for another stimulus package. What we ought to be doing is rethinking regulating the financial market to channel credit into useful investments instead of useless, destructive speculations. Putting money into green jobs is useful in many ways."
The investments can come none too soon as America has already fallen, as Pollin put it, "dramatically behind" Europe and Asia in the wind and solar manufacturing sector. The Globe last week reported that wind turbine projects are being delayed for up to two years because the parts cannot be made fast enough, hurting one of the few big American players in this arena, General Electric. "You can't retrofit a building in Amherst in China," Pollin said. "You can't rebuild a subway system from abroad. The technology is there. We know we're going to get a fast payoff if we get going."
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
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