Memo to media: In the future, the only jobs left will be green

WIRED asked LinkedIn to analyze the 7 million US members who have switched industries during the past five years.”  The growth in “Renewables and The Environment” was 56.8% — almost off the chart [click to enlarge].

In the future, the only jobs left will be green.  Last year, the NY Times reported, “In the energy sector alone, the deployment of new technologies, like wind and solar power, has the potential to support 20 million jobs by 2030 and trillions of dollars in revenue, analysts estimate.”

Averting catastrophic climate change will generate far more jobs by 2050, as we must deploy more than 10,000 GW of clean energy (see here).  Failing to avert catastrophic climate change will probably generate more jobs, especially post-2030, since we still have to make the transition off fossil fuels, but on top of that we will have to have to make probably 10 times as much investment in sea walls, levees, relocating people and cities, and the like (see Real adaptation is as politically tough as real mitigation, but much more expensive and not as effective in reducing future misery).

But the inevitable transition to a low carbon, low-fossil-fuel, water- and resource-efficient economy is apparently lost on many in the media.   Surprisingly, NPR runs this headline today:

Is Obama’s Bet On Green Jobs Risky?

Uhh, no.  The only “risky” move is failing to aggressively pursue clean energy, failing to quickly reduce dependence on  petroleum before peak oil forces us too, and failing to embrace a sustainable economy before the global Ponzi scheme collapses.

NPR  seems to have confused the (very high) risks inherent in investing in any single technology with the (super-low) risks of  placing a large bet across the full portfolio of green tech, as this excerpt  from the story suggests:

If the Department of Energy were a James Bond film, Arun Majumdar would be Q, the tech whiz who oversees futuristic gadgets. Majumdar, whose official title is director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, helps steer government investments to new energy technologies, some of which he acknowledges may ultimately fail.

“Of course these are risky,” he said. “We don’t know which ones are going to win down the line, which ones are going to actually make it in the market and produce hundreds of thousands of jobs and really change the world.”

The White House is gambling that one or more of these technologies eventually will produce hundreds of thousands of jobs and change the world.

And it’s a gamble with real money….

Majumdar clearly means that placing individual bets can be risky but investing in the overall sector itself is not.

Yes, the rest of the story had more good parts than bad:

There are reasons to believe that clean energy is a good investment, though. This part of the economy is small and growing fast. So far, it gets a good bang for the government buck.

“If you took the government’s stimulus program on green activities, you get 17 jobs more or less per $1 million of expenditure,” said economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whom the Commerce Department hired to run the numbers.

For comparison’s sake, Pollin calculates that the military creates about 11 jobs for every $1 million; the oil and gas industry produces about five jobs per $1 million.

Pollin said clean energy gets a better payoff because kick-starting a new industry requires a lot of manpower.

“There’s way more jobs in clean energy because essentially there’s a lot more construction jobs, there’s a lot more manufacturing jobs, there’s a lot more transportation jobs,” he said. “So it’s really the process of building the new industry that makes it a good generator of jobs.”

But  it is still filled with the false balance of quoting economists who don’t understand the transition  off of fossil fuels into a low carbon economy is inevitable.  And since most people won’t get past the headline and the opening sentences, most people will end up with the wrong message, that somehow pursuing green jobs is risky.

Then, of course, we have the center-right Politico, which is almost exclusively interested in the horse race — who is up and who is down.  Same for policy — what issue is winning and what issue is losing?  That’s clear from their headline:

Green jobs success eludes President Obama

By “success” they don’t mean whether Obama has been successful in creating green jobs, since they really have no clue about that.  They mean whether he has been successful in selling the issue:

President Barack Obama heads to an energy plant in North Carolina on Monday to talk once again about the job-creating power of a green economy.

The catch? Nearly three years into Obama’s presidency, the White House can’t point to much solid evidence that significant numbers of Americans are scoring the green jobs the president has been touting.

Monthly Labor Department employment reports say nothing about the new clean energy workforce, while an effort to document how many Americans actually make a living in the “green collar” field may not be done by November 2012.

Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers suggests 225,000 clean energy jobs were either created or preserved through the third quarter of 2010 thanks to more than $80 billion in the economic stimulus package. But those are estimates at best.

Politico notes the White House says, “the connection between the 9.1 percent unemployment rate and the administration’s concerted green jobs campaign is the wrong question”:

A better benchmark, they say, is the exponential growth in clean technology industries, from the new car battery manufacturers that have sprung up across the Midwest to renewable energy plants, including the world’s largest solar facility that’s slated to break ground Friday in the California desert.

The White House figures 825,000 Americans should be building electric car batteries, retrofitting homes or doing other green collar work by the end of 2012. But that too is an extrapolation.

“It’s certainly a good thing if those numbers are believable,” said Jerry Webman, chief economist at the Oppenheimer Funds. “But they’re not a large enough number for the nation or Obama’s job creation problem.”

Obama’s team also touts public investments it hopes will prompt private spending and lower costs for the clean energy industries of tomorrow. And all that may take a little time.

“You know, it’s just like if you had a bad illness, if you got hit by a truck, it’s going to take a while for you to mend,” Obama said earlier this month during a visit to a Chrysler auto plant in Toledo, Ohio. “And that’s what’s happened to our economy. It’s taking a while to mend.”

While Obama may in fact end up creating millions of green jobs, it may be too late to save his.

What a cute turn of phrase, but again you will find no discussion whatsoever in this piece of the urgent and inevitable need to replace oil and other fossil fuels with low-carbon energy.

You will find this laugher:

Top Republicans say they are open to creating green jobs as part of an “all of the above” energy strategy.

Top Republicans give lip service to “all of the above,” to make media mavens like the Politico happy, but they vote against clean energy overwhelmingly and consistently year after year.  Now they want to gut it entirely.

The bottom line is that Obama is no doubt doing a lousy job of selling green jobs, just as he has been doing a lousy job of messaging with respect to every aspect of climate and clean energy —  and almost everything else for that matter.

But in the future, a large fraction of the world’s jobs will be “green.”  Obama made that clear himself in a 2009 speech:

We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity.

As I’ve said many times, to perpetuate the high returns the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater fraction of nonrenewable energy resources (especially hydrocarbons) and natural capital (fresh water, arable land, forests, fisheries), and, the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all — a livable climate.

In short, we have failed to designed a system capable of lasting prosperity. Quite the reverse.

Like all Ponzi schemes, the system must collapse. When it does, a large (and growing) fraction of the jobs left standing will be those that are “green” — which can be defined as those jobs that do not plunder nonrenewable energy resources and natural capital and/or do not to destroy a livable climate.

The only questions are

  1. Will the world make the transition fast enough to the worst of catastrophic global warming and peak oil?
  2. Will this country make the transition fast enough to a leader in the century’s biggest job creating sector.


Below are the earlier comments from the Facebook commenting system:

Terry Tremwel

After you are done with the green jobs, you have an infrastructure that lowers your energy bills for decades. After you finish employing 5 people per $1 million in the Oil and Gas industry, you have burned a lot of fossil fuels and have nothing left to show for it, except Global Warming and ACC.

Any guesses as to why the Oil and Gas Industry is desperately spending $millions on TV to convince you and your representatives to keep subsidizing their form of energy, while they make record profits?

How about why the Oil and Gas Industry is spending $millions on financing political campaigns? Does that influence how YOU vote? Or IF you vote?

Poor Oil and Gas Industry! Poor Coal Industry! Poor Brothers Koch!

Clean Coal does not exist and the Coal Industry predicts that it will not exist until 2020 at the earliest, and even then the cost will be 89% higher than the current cost per MWH, with a 10 to 15% penalty on generation efficiency. These are Coal Industry figures. See AEP reports:​ms/EUPP/globallowcarbonwor​kshop/Mar1/Gary_Spitznogle​_Advanced_Clean_Coal_Techn​ology.pdf.

June 13 at 2:25pm

John Dernbach

We will hopefully have better and more reliable data on green jobs in 2012. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has begun a green jobs initiative to “develop information on (1) the number of and trend over time in green jobs, (2) the industrial, occupational, and geographic distribution of the jobs, and (3) the wages of the workers in these jobs.” As a central part of that effort, it finalized a definition of “green job” in a 2010 Federal Register notice. The definition will be used to collect data on green jobs, which in turn will be used to evaluate the labor market effect of various environmental policy initiatives—something the Bureau has not previously been able to do. According to the Bureau:
“Green jobs are either:
A. Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.
B. Jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”
The definition will be used in surveys covering 2.2 million of the nation’s 9.0 million establishments, where most of the green jobs are believed to exist. The first publication of green jobs data is planned for summer 2012.

June 14 at 5:57pm


No, the transition will not be fast enough to avoid the worst of catastrophic global warming. We all know that. It will take a bipartisan effort and we are years away from anything like that.

Will the US lead in “the century’s biggest job creating sector?” Not if the Republicans have anything to say about it. They want to crush truly green jobs. You might find a few positions open in the corn to ethanol industry.

June 13 at 4:37pm

Terry Tremwel

More typos: Will the world make the transition fast enough to [avert] the worst of catastrophic global warming and peak oil? Will this country make the transition fast enough to [become] a leader in the century’s biggest job creating sector.

June 13 at 2:37pm

Seth Masia

Typo, Joe: NPR seems to have confused the (very high) risks inherent in investing in any single technology with the (super-low) risks of placing a large BET across the full portfolio of green tech, as this excerpt from the story suggests:

June 13 at 12:56pm

Comments are closed.