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Emerald Cities Shines a Light on Green Jobs

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The possibility that green jobs may be the key to economic recovery and environmental sustainability is all the rage in media coverage these days. The New York Times has run several features on their prospects, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published a 50-page, four-section feature entitled, "Going for the Green: Finding Growth through the Green Movement."

The more zealous advocates for the "movement" assert its potential for creating millions of jobs and transforming the United States into a clean energy economy. Skeptics argue that the growth figures for green jobs are wildly overstated.

Some excellent research has been published that quantifies the job growth potential of a clean energy transformation, particularly the work of Robert Pollin at the University of Massachusetts. But the projections of scholars and the assertions of advocates have seldom been buttressed with hands-on evidence of what's presently at work in the U.S. economy.

Emerald Cities: Urban Sustainability and Economic Development, by Joan Fitzgeralrd, Director of the Law, Policy and Society Program at Northeastern University, goes a long way toward filling this factual vacuum on clean energy development, including some laudable candor about the prospect of green job growth, given the shortcomings of current policies. "The most optimistic scenario estimates," she writes, "total U.S. employment in renewable energy at 188,018 by 2020, with a 20 percent portfolio standard."

Fitzgerald combines the academic discipline of an urban planner with the rigors of shoe-leather journalism in crafting a book that documents where real progress is being made and why the best of intentions among policy makers often go begging for want of a federal strategy to advance clean energy development

Her book focuses on cities, which consume 75 percent of the world's energy and produce 80 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions. She cites them as the locus of evolving clean energy initiatives, mindful of both their importance and their relative impotence as engines of strategic transformation.

"Cities cannot solve the climate crisis without international treaties and national policies to support them," she writes. "But national policy gets played out in particular places, and cities can employ economic development strategies to support the development of renewable energy and clean carbon-reducing technologies."

Unwilling to settle for examining solutions that merely add quantitatively to the nation's economy, Fitzgerald sets out to determine what policies can be implemented to push forward an equity agenda, averring that "achieving green economic growth with justice is the challenge of the century."

Emerald Cities girds Fitzgerald's laudable ideals with well documented accounts of the value and limitations of urban initiatives already underway, such as solar development in Berkeley, CA and Toledo, OH, renewable energy in Austin, TX , and wind energy in Cleveland, OH. Unlike cities in Germany and China, which enjoy the support of national industrial policies, the most innovative U.S. cities find themselves the victims of a patchwork approach to public policy.

"What every case reveals," she concludes, "is that cities can't do it alone - a host of state and federal policies' are needed if the United States is going to become and economic leader in the energy-climate era."

Fitzgerald is especially forceful in asserting that revitalizing manufacturing is essential for transforming to a clean energy economy. "The United States can no longer afford to think of manufacturing as yesterday's industry," she writes, adding that "the environmental crisis will have to be solved at the point of production. The next generation of environmentalists need to be industrial engineers.

"If we hold onto the idea that manufacturing is not essential to the nation's economy, we will miss the opportunity to have environmental goals serve economic goals, and leadership will pass to other nations."

She recommends a federal investment corporation to provide loans, tax breaks, and grants for manufacturing, if America is to overcome the significant leads in renewable manufacturing enjoyed by Germany and especially China, both of which have long-term industrial strategies already in place. To ensure that these incentives lead to shared prosperity, Fitzgerald asserts that "any government funding should be tied to prevailing wages so that the jobs created are good ones."

She notes that the overwhelming number of jobs in wind and solar are in manufacturing, rather than in design, installation, and operation:

If the United States wants to get serious about capturing or recapturing clean energy production... we have to get over our aversion to industrial policy... Absent industrial policies to develop these new industries, the desire to attract green businesses is just the latest variant on a familiar zero-game of smokestack-chasing.

The foundation of solid on-site business reporting and economic research on which Emerald Cities is built makes the book, as well as its author's formidable conclusions, worthwhile reading for anyone concerned about the relationship between the quality of life in the U.S economy and the sustainability of life on the planet.