Imagine if, in 1963, two years after JFK’s famous speech to Congress, the New York Times had run a story, “Space program fails to live up to promise.” That will give you some idea of how bad a recent NYT story on the clean energy economy was, “Number of Green Jobs Fails to Live Up to Promises.”
The story is triply terrible: It’s incorrect and premature and misleading. So of course it has been quoted endlessly by the right-wing media. It’s sad when the U.S. press isn’t any better than the UK press (see “Over Half the Coverage of Renewable Energy in Mainstream British Press is Negative“).
First, the core inaccuracy:
A study released in July by the non-partisan Brookings Institution found clean-technology jobs accounted for just 2 percent of employment nationwide and only slightly more — 2.2 percent — in Silicon Valley. Rather than adding jobs, the study found, the sector actually lost 492 positions from 2003 to 2010 in the South Bay, where the unemployment rate in June was 10.5 percent.
Talk about a bait and switch. The NYT cites the Brookings study, but then pulls out one tiny piece of it to make the exact opposite argument of the study. As Climate Progress wrote, Brookings actually found nationwide:
From 2003 to 2010, the clean [energy] economy grew by 8.3% — almost double what the overall economy grew during those years….
“The pace of growth really is torrid in that sector,” says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings Metropolitan Program and a co-author of the report. “This confirms the intuition that these exciting industries really are growing as fast as we think they are.”
(Note: We incorrectly reported earlier that the entire sector saw 8.3% growth from 2003 to 2010. We have since corrected that error to reflect the real time frame for the growth of the whole sector— 2008-2009. Only one third of the sector — the clean energy part — saw 8.3% growth between 2003 and 2010.)
On top of that, median salaries for cleantech-related jobs are $46,343, or about $7,727 more than the median wages across the broader economy. But you’d never know that from the NYT hit job.
Then we have this wildly premature B.S. from the Times:
In the Bay Area as in much of the country, the green economy is not proving to be the job-creation engine that many politicians envisioned. President Obama once pledged to create five million green jobs over 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown promised 500,000 clean-technology jobs statewide by the end of the decade. But the results so far suggest such numbers are a pipe dream.
Again, that is just factually wrong, as we’ve seen. It’s also premature. We’re 2 years in to Obama’s 10-year pledge. Worse, Obama’s pledge was based in large part on passage of a climate and clean energy jobs bill. So this isn’t just like the NY Times writing a story “Space program fails to live up to promise” in 1963. Imagine if Congress refused to fund the moonshot, and then the NY Times attacked the failed effort.
Here is all the Times has to say on the subject:
Advocates and entrepreneurs also blame Washington for the slow growth. [Van] Jones cited the failure of so-called cap and trade legislation, which would have cut carbon pollution and increased the cost of using fossil fuel, making alternative energy more competitive. Congressional Republicans have staunchly opposed cap-and-trade.
The climate and clean energy jobs bill would have led to hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in clean energy – and that would have created the millions of clean energy jobs. It would also be nice if the Times could have correctly reported that “The bill passed the House with bipartisan support. Most Congressional Republicans opposed cap-and-trade, many of them reversing their earlier support for the policy.” As written, the piece implies that all Congressional Republicans always opposed cap-and-trade, implying the possibility it ever could have passed was non-existent, which is not true.
The piece has so many errors and misleading statements in it, that I will finish by excerpting an NRDC post by Cal Steger, Energy Policy Analyst at NRDC’s new Center for Market Innovation, “Pushing back on a bad Green Jobs story“:
I recently drove through parts of Michigan and Ohio, stopping in at various companies connected to the new clean energy economy…. I toured factories that are manufacturing wind components, energy efficient roofing products and light fixtures and even a refrigerator recycling facility. In some of the areas hit hardest by both the recession and long-term outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing, the new clean economy is bringing jobs back. More importantly, these aren’t jobs that involve sitting at a desk all day pushing paperwork around (like, say, my job), but good-paying factory jobs for working class Americans, where things get built or made, and then sold.Astraeus is in Eaton Rapids, Michigan, a town of about 5,000, and has developed innovative ways of manufacturing wind components quicker and cheaper. They’ve been able to hire back nearly all of the 100 workers that lost their jobs during the recession (and expect to create hundreds more jobs as their high-tech wind components are used by wind companies). In a community that size, that has real impact. Full Spectrum Solutions is based in Jackson, Michigan, another small town, and makes efficient lighting products. They’ve doubled in size during a tough recession.
There are literally dozens of stories just like this in the Midwest….
Which is what makes this article so frustrating. First, I’ve read the Brookings report multiple times (and its great technical appendix) – and it’s not the depressing story the author makes it out to be…. First – it was measuring the entire “clean economy”, not just clean technology (so analyzing 40 industry segments, including everything from public transit and types of farming, to pollution reduction and recycling). But if you just want to look at the “clean technology” segment of this clean economy, then you’ll see “explosive growth” per the report – wind and solar jobs grew anywhere from 10%-18% annually the past 8 years (see page 22). Overall, the clean economy accounts for 2.7 million jobs, making it a larger employer of Americans than the fossil fuel energy sectors.
Second – the point of this study was to analyze job growth across the U.S. So for example, while the South Bay (San Jose, Sunnvale, Santa Clara) lost 492 jobs from 2003-2010 (as referenced in the article), the region of San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont area increased total clean economy jobs from 2003-2010 by more than 44% in that time, adding 15,700 new jobs. (from the data downloads in their interactive map here). Nationally, similarly impressive stories are everywhere. During that same period, Knoxville, Tennessee added nearly 10,000 green jobs, as did Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina – tripling the size of jobs in their clean economies, while Little Rock Arkansas more than doubled the number of jobs in its clean economy….
So yes, looking at one community with 10.5% unemployment, you can write a story that the clean economy has not produced significant growth in the past 7 years. And looking at small sub-segments within the broader clean economy that are heavily exposed to construction and home building also probably won’t paint a great picture. But looking across the nation, in areas and industries hit hardest by a tough economy, the story is much, much more optimistic.
The clean economy is real. It’s going to be the biggest job creating sector in the coming decades because of peak oil and climate change. Of course, it’s possible that most of the jobs will be created overseas if the GOP and the fossil-fuel-funded denier industrial complex continues to succeed in its effort to strangle it — and if the media keeps misreporting the story.
Below are old comments from the Facebook commenting system:
It is unfortunate that the narrow definitions used by the Times failed to capture the real growth in this sector. I am the new president of Unity College, and I have asked our faculty to turn our attention to building programs for the sustainability professions and the clean economy. Several lines of scholarship show that this is a good bet for our future and the employability of our students. Perhaps equally important, it is our ethical imperative to service this growing sector of the economy.
Write to the NY Times public editor (their ombudsman): email@example.com.
This is imperative. It’s vital that the Times hear from us how distorted this piece was.
JFK was a futurist.
the GOP of today is living in the year 1200.
This is dated, and mostly about Gina Kolata, whose beat at the NYT is health and fitness. But it’s still relevant to the integrity of NYT reporting.
Gina Kolata: What’s Wrong With the New York Times’s Science Reporting? MARK DOWIE / The Nation 6jul98.
It feels like we could use some framing terminology for this growing phenomenon of attacking the clean energy transition, comparable to “green washing.” Couple of ideas:
Please help me out with creativity here, amigos.
Make it doom & glooming of the green business opportunities. The so called conservatives like optimistic sentiment combined with business opportunities. If you like you can do some flag-waving and say that these business opportunities should not be left to the Chinese and the Germans, after Americans did all the creative research (even if they didn’t .. just lie: gives the conservatives a fuzzy warm feeling).
Sorry to hear the NYT dropped the ball on this one. We need more support for clean energy legislation, not less. If we don’t act soon, China will beat us to the punch.
Jeffrey Davis · Top Commenter
The NYT didn’t “drop” the ball. They pulled a knife from their belt and stabbed it.
Yes, it’s clear that this story was “placed,” as they say in journalism.
If we are successful in getting the Public Editor to do an investigation, just as the Methane (natural gas) Hydro-fracking industry was recently successful in getting a Pub-Ed investigation, we may learn some details about how this story was structured into the paper.
Rob Honeycutt · Top Commenter
I highly suggest everyone write a (polite please) email to Mr Glantz pointing out how backward he got this article.
Jeffrey Davis · Top Commenter
Why be polite? If the writer cherry picked information, he knows it.
Rob Honeycutt · Top Commenter
Because people are far more likely to listen.
Jeffrey Davis · Top Commenter
To be blunt, I don’t see any point in responding directly to these people at all. A person capable of being convinced wouldn’t have cherry picked info to begin with.
I think, frankly, that journalism is dead. The WWW killed it. Now, the zombie journalists simply do PR for the owners’ corporate interests. A “polite” response strikes me as bitterly comic. Like the basement scene in “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” where the bad guy mocks the hero’s courtesy.
sasparillafizz (signed in using Yahoo)
I’m sure the Time’s advertisers, like Exxon or the Coal Industry etc., were very happy with this article.
The Green Awakening Economy not what is reported in the NY Times. AND That is a good thing.
The NYT is living in 1990.
perhaps a compliment.
Barry Saxifrage · Top Commenter
Another great debunking of fossil fuel spin. Thanks Joe.