THE BLOG
01/28/2009 03:46 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Millions of Green Jobs?

This story originally appeared in the Exception Magazine, Maine's premier online news organization.

Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, the Democratic candidates tried to top each other with promises of green jobs that would revitalize broken economies in the heartland and get America off of foreign oil. Because green jobs are a relatively new concept, there have been few, if any political consequences for boldly touting them during policy pitches.

Barack Obama's energy plan, for example, will supposedly create five million "Green Collar Jobs" by investing billions in renewable energy, efficiency measures, home weatherizations, tighter emissions standards and "clean coal" technology. Mr. Obama is currently pledging green jobs to drum up support for his economic stimulus package as well as his future programs to combat climate change.

While there are no official government statistics or scholarly works confirming the total number of current green jobs in America, according to a report published in October 2008 by the United States Conference of Mayors, there were at least 750,000 green jobs in the United States as of 2006. Over half were in the engineering, legal, research and consulting category, with another 127,246 employed in a job related to renewable power generation.

The Center for American Progress (CAP), a center-left think-tank, argues that a national 100 billion dollar green economic recovery program would reduce unemployment and create two million green jobs in two years. For perspective, Maine would gain 9,132 green jobs and see its unemployment rate fall by over a percentage point.

Back in September, Green Jobs Now, a project of Green For All, 1Sky and Al Gore's We Campaign, got more than 50,000 Americans to publicly proclaim "We're ready for green jobs now!"

Unfortunately, for green jobs advocates, however, while workers may want green jobs, the market is not quite ready to create millions of them just yet.

"From July to November of last year, applications have gone up 100% while job postings have gone down 50%" said Peter Beadle, founder of the green jobs listing service Greenjobs.com.

An informal Exception Magazine survey of America's most prominent online green job boards confirms there are barely a few thousand new green jobs offered each month nationwide. Without an unprecedented intervention in the marketplace by the government, millions of green jobs may not develop. Furthermore, the recession is hurting the green sector as it is the rest of the economy.

"Unfortunately, our listings dropped sharply in October through December along with the general economy," said Dr. Rona Fried, President of SustainableBusiness.com, which also runs another popular green jobs board. "I was surprised to see it happen. My guess is that every business and organization froze and decided to wait and see."

Yet the green job outlook looks more promising now that George W. Bush has left office.

"Job listings are stronger so far in January and I expect a good year because of Obama and because of the overall growth in our industry" said Dr. Fried.

A broad coalition of venture capitalists, big businesses, labor groups, Democrats and environmental organizations have thus seized the green jobs message to kick start their various lobbying efforts with the new administration. Labor groups such as the United Steel Workers and SEIU have teamed up with environmental organizations like the Sierra Club to form the Blue-Green Alliance, which represents the "potential" for green jobs, as a spokesperson explained it to The Exception. Silicon Valley venture capitalists like John Doerr have been testifying in Washington this month, trying to convince Congress to grant lavish subsidies on their green investments. And CAP, business leaders and politicians will congregate with the Blue-Green Alliance for the 2009 Green Jobs Expo in Washington, DC from February 4-6.

But skeptics are starting to question how the concept of green jobs is being used to push government programs.

The Institute for Energy Research (IER), a free-market think-tank, has published one of the first comprehensive critiques of the green jobs research that was prepared by the Council of Mayors and the Center for American Progress.

Free market advocates do not oppose an economy that builds solar panels and electric cars. But when government bureaucrats pick the winners and losers, "the package is rewarding the politically connected groups that are close to the Democrats," Robert Murphy, one of the IER report's authors, explained to the Exception Magazine.

There is also a debate over whether an extensive federal green jobs policy will harm jobs in other sectors. Some green jobs advocates "are ignoring the jobs that will be destroyed by taxing or borrowing," said Mr. Murphy.

When the Obama administration moves forward, as anticipated, with a federal cap and trade system to reduce America's carbon emissions, expect more thorough arguments from both sides regarding the actual economic benefits of a green jobs subsidy.

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