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The green jobs debate: A boon or a bust for the economy?

February 9, 2012 |  2:18 pm

Green Jobs

Jonah Goldberg took President Obama to task in an August column about green jobs. “[T]he windfall in green jobs,” he wrote,  “has always been a con job.”

The record in America has been no better, Obama's campaign stump speeches notwithstanding. The New York Times, which has been touting the green agenda in its news pages for years, admitted last week that "federal and state efforts to stimulate creation of green jobs have largely failed, government records show." Even Obama's former green jobs czar concedes the point, as do other leading Democrats, including Rep. Maxine Waters of Los Angeles.

But Next 10’s Many Shades of Green report tells a different story. The new report documents California’s green economy, finding that  green jobs haven’t been as vulnerable to recession. Tiffany Hsu explains on Money & Co.

From January 2009 through January 2010, the overall state economy lost 7% of its jobs, according to nonprofit research group Next 10’s Many Shades of Green report. During the same period, the core green economy -- composed of businesses involved in renewable energy, clean-fuel cars, water conservation, emissions trading and more -- suffered a 3% job loss.

That left 169,800 green jobs in the state at the start of 2010. Regions such as San Diego, the Bay Area and Sacramento remained resilient with less than a 2% green employment decline. Los Angeles, which has more than 20% of all green jobs in the state, saw its positions slip 4% to 26,600.

Stephen Lacey at ThinkProgress cheers the good news.

The big story was job creation in the clean energy/materials manufacturing sector, which increased by 53% from 1995 to 2010 while jobs in the rest of the manufacturing sector dropped by 18%. […]

These figures echo those in a recent report from the Brookings Institution showing that clean energy jobs nationwide expanded by 8.3% per year from 2003 to 2010, with the rest of the “clean economy” (a broader definition including public transit, recycling and next-generation materials) growing 8.3% during the height of the recession between 2008 and 2009.

But is the green economy destroying other industries, leaving those workers unemployed and hurting the broader economic landscape? This issue played a role in Goldberg’s argument.

For instance, Barack Obama came into office insisting that Spain was beating the U.S. in the rush for green jobs. Never mind that in Spain — where unemployment is now at 21% — the green jobs boom has been a bust. One major 2009 study by researchers at King Juan Carlos University found that the country destroyed 2.2 jobs in other industries for every green job it created, and the Spanish government has spent more than half a million euros for each green job created since 2000. Wind industry jobs cost a cool $1 million euros apiece.

Then again, as Many Shades of Green points out, green companies have created new revenue streams for traditional occupations. Here’s Hsu's article again:  

Long-standing occupations such as electricians and machinery mechanics will have a new outlet through green jobs, according to the report. And new roles such as solar energy installation manager, chief sustainability officer and biofuels production manager could earn workers annual incomes well into the six figures.

All of which would seem to undermine Goldberg’s theory that green jobs are a con job. If only this latest report would get as much play as September's Solyndra drama.   

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-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: James Cahill of SolarCity, which installs thin film technology solar panels. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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