Published on Tuesday, March 2, 2004 by the Seattle Times
The 'Green' Way to Fight the Loss of U.S. Jobs
by Neal Peirce
The swirl of political dust that the Democratic presidential contenders have stirred up over job losses under President Bush begs one question: What would they do?
To offset job hemorrhaging to low-cost countries, both Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards talk about tax breaks for U.S. manufacturers who add jobs here. Edwards is vehement about curtailing trade agreements that he says trigger domestic job loss.
But can the riptides of globalization be stilled? Not likely, given the dramatically lower costs of labor in such nations as Mexico, China and India.
This election season should elevate us past defensiveness to a grand debate on how the United States anticipates the inevitable decline of fossil fuels, pushes an imaginative array of sustainable-development technologies, and uses the process to generate millions of new jobs for Americans.
Indeed, while official Washington ponders still more subsidies for oil, gas and coal interests, several states are edging into leadership positions in advancing wind turbines, solar panels, hydrogen fuel cells, "green" buildings, and more.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, for example, has placed a priority on job creation in the renewable-energy sector (solar, fuel cells and others). Concurrently, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative pushes new opportunities ranging from "green power" to "green schools."
New York Gov. George Pataki talks up the $50 million his state has pledged toward a academic-business-government partnership — centered at a new research institute at Syracuse University — aimed at making the region "the Silicon Valley of environmental research." Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and state Comptroller Alan Hevesi are urging New York to use its investors, cutting-edge research and skilled labor force to become "the smart energy capital on the East Coast."
In New York City, labor leaders are envisioning a century of solid-paying, high-skilled construction jobs in retrofitting and new construction of "high performance" (i.e., "green") buildings that require substantially reduced energy. Together with "distributed" (i.e., localized) energy generation, backers assert New York could sharply reduce its dependence on imperiled Midwest and East Coast energy grids.
There's a nationwide opportunity, notes Bracken Hendricks of the Washington-based Apollo Alliance of labor and environmental groups, "to literally substitute high-skill construction employment for wasted energy resources," in the process cutting energy consumption 20 percent to 30 percent by 2020.
Pennsylvania's Gov. Edward Rendell has just kicked off a major campaign to streamline regulations and focus funds to accelerate recycling of industrial brownfields and revive flagging older cities.
Hendricks greets that kind of investment because he views older cities and suburbs as more efficient, more dense, "pro-union and pro-environment." Invest in them, he suggests, and the impact "reduces society's environmental footprint," avoiding "investment in low-density, nonunion, stick construction in sprawl sites that erode open space."
In California, even as the regular state budget teeters on the edge pending a bond referendum March 2, state Treasurer Phil Angelides has launched a "Green Wave" agenda to mobilize the immense investments powers of the two multibillion-dollar state pension funds — CalPERS and CalSTRS. More than $500 million in pension investments will go to private firms developing "clean" technologies that create jobs and economic growth in the state. Another combined $1 billion in the funds will be invested in stock portfolios of environmentally screened funds — funds, as Angelides notes, that are now tending to outperform regular market funds.
And finally, CalPERS and CalSTRS will audit their $16 billion worth of real-estate investments to maximize opportunities "to use clean energy, energy efficiency and green building standards."
Kerry and Edwards both endorsed the Apollo Project plan aimed at U.S. energy independence when it was announced in January. Kerry underscored the long-term national-security implications: "Renewable energy sources are important because they are entirely under our control. No foreign government can embargo them. No terrorist can seize control of them. No cartel can play games with them. No American soldier will have to risk his or her life to protect them."
What Kerry could have said, but didn't, is that most of the jobs produced by a sustainable-energy economy won't be exportable.
Suddenly, we have this dramatic convergence of 21st-century energy needs, national-security priorities, sustaining communities and our crying need to create solid, family-wage jobs that won't easily vault overseas.
It's an equation for fresh hope — a quality too often missing in these years of terror frights and dismal deficits. The presidential campaign provides an ideal opportunity to expose the challenging new ideas and possibilities to the American people.
Message to the candidates: Let's make sure we don't miss it.
Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company