Opportunity and Obstinance: Green Jobs and the Blue Economy

George W. Bush signed the “Green Jobs Act of 2007” about 4 years ago. During that period, most of the presumed Republican candidates for the 2012 U.S. Presidential election actively supported some form of Cap and Trade or other policies aimed at taming global warming. Since then however, GOP climate leadership turned 180 degrees, while the scientific consensus strengthened and nations such as China, Germany and Brazil expanded their lead in renewable energy technology, infrastructure and environmental finance. And of course, the rapidly developing crisis has worsened.

Most Republicans argue that carbon trading markets and renewable energy programs are job killers. At the same time they have advanced a talking point for voters that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is the topic of serious, peer-reviewed debate in science, policy, and entrepreneurship. Since 2001, 32 national science academies have come together to issue joint declarations confirming anthropogenic global warming, using the word consensus and urging the nations of the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, those of: The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand Kenya and so on. Rupert Murdoch rightly touts that News Corporation is carbon neutral.  As for employment, Next 10, a nonprofit research group in Palo Alto, California analyzed California’s, “core green economy”, a category they define as research and advocacy, finance and investment, energy efficiency, recycling and building. The study found the number of green companies surged 45% from 1995 to 2008. Total jobs in energy efficiency, renewable fuels, and clean tech expanded 36%. During the same period general employment in the state grew 13%. We can be sure that carbon based industries will experience job destruction as renewable industrial plant comes online. Policy-makers should focus on the required job-retraining and educational actions required to minimize the shift of employment from fossil fuel industries to renewable ones.

Newt Gingrinch, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee at one time aligned themselves with conservative leadership voices on Climate Change and Cap and Trade, John McCain and Lindsay Graham. But they all lost their religion. Deep-pocketed corporate interests focused more on the status quo than competition and innovation can exploit the Citizens United decision and will employ a one dollar one vote election strategy. Hence the uptick in hostility towards policies aimed at protecting our food, water and energy supply from the Pollute and Promote lobby.

Green Collar Jobs: High Quality and Increasing in Quantity

All the while science (and policy makers and entrepreneurs in every other industrialized nation other than the U.S) advances to the question of not if, but when and how bad, extreme climate change is going to be for human civilization. Equally urgent is the search for effective policies and tools to mitigate the ramifications of AGW. A study published in Applied Mechanics and Materials this past February titled Simulation & Prediction of Pacific Plastic Pollution by Shaobo Zhong, Yimin Cheng, and Xilong Qu reports, “in about next 20 years, the Pacific Ocean will be unable to hold more garbage” and concludes, “To compare the effect of government increasing taxation and plastic salvaging, a conclusion is reached that the huge economic losses caused by taxes are far more than the amount of money (that would be) spent in salvaging the plastic garbage.”

Just as building Cap and Trade exchanges creates jobs, so would salvage operations to remove the garbage. Undoubtedly such activity will also generate new methods and systems that will drive the formation of more capital. Given that the Pacific is one of the world’s major sources of food, it will be done. While we solve the industrial problems of keeping plastic from getting there in the first place, the U.S. can and should benefit from the economic upside in such salvage operations and in bringing the Pacific Garbage Patch to a steady or decreasing state. Will the U.S. be competitive and benefit from this business opportunity? Not if the current, baseless hostility to the science and economic policy of global warming and pollution in general continues. Political candidates need to show leadership based on fact and lead by defying Washington corporate lobbyists and informing their constituents.

The GOP argues that carbon trading markets and renewable energy programs are job killers. In addition, while offering no evidence for such  they have also managed to create a talking point for the public around the baseless perception that AGW is the subject of serious scientific controversy. It’s a great challenge and those that meet it will reap economic rewards. Big Pollution jobs will no doubt experience the creative destruction of the market. Though, as we see in some corners of our nation and across the world, such jobs are being replaced by ones that are sustainable both in terms of the ecology and the 21st century economy. Inaction on climate change and greenhouse gas emission will kill and diminish lot of things,  such as farmlands, oceans and rivers as seems increasingly clear, viable economics opportunities as well.