Monday, November 30, 2009

Promises vs. reality: Whatever happened to those 5 million green collar jobs?

Greenhouse Effect
Although slowed by the recession, power plants and motor vehicles are still spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Global warming hasn't gone away, but the will to do something about it seems to be ebbing, given the more immediate concern about jobs.

On ABC's This Week Sunday morning there was a story on a new ABC Washington Post poll that showed eroding support for action on global warming.
On policy, 76 percent now favor unspecified government action on global warming, down from 86 percent in summer 2008. This now includes 55 percent who favor the United States taking steps even if countries such as China and India do less; that's down from 68 percent.
The discussion focused on how people seem to want to do something about global warming during good times, but put the idea on the back burner when they're more concerned about jobs. The talking heads focused on "either or" rather than a connection between the two -- that is, the idea of creating "green collar" jobs in industries that lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.

That seems odd, given that little more than a year ago, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were campaigning on which of them could more effectively create 5 million new green collar jobs. The goal was featured on Obama's website and helped create the aura of fresh new thinking and hope associated with his campaign.

What happened? At the very time we need jobs and we need to do something about global warming, hardly anyone is talking about addressing both concerns at the same time by funding new green jobs and technologies. One exception is that voice in the wilderness, Bob Herbert at the New York Times -- but nobody seems to be paying attention.

In two recent columns Herbert talked about his visit to Detroit. The first described the devastating urban blight and unemployment in the city that used to be the world leader of the auto industry. He talked to Detroit native Harley Shaiken, a professor at Berkeley who specializes in labor issues.
“We’ve been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century,” said Mr. Shaiken, “and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families.”
The second column was titled Signs of Hope and was about creating jobs in the new green technologies pioneered by Stan Ovshinsky, inventor of amorphous solar panels and other green technologies.
The point is that these (and many more) brilliant, innovative technologies are here. They are real, tangible. They exist. What’s needed now is the will to develop policies that will vastly expand these advances and radically reduce their costs. The United States should be leading the world in the creation of whole new energy technologies and industries, instead of allowing the forces of the old carbon-based industries — coal, oil, gasoline-powered vehicles — to stand obstinately in the way of real progress.

“Now,” Mr. Ovshinsky told me, “is when we have to build the new industries of the future.”
We've been hollowing out real jobs and replacing them with financial manipulation for years now. It's as if Americans decided to stop making things and skip ahead to making money directly, without any of that messy work that used to be involved. We see where that's gotten us. Maybe it's time to take another look at those 5 million green jobs.

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