David Brooks Cites Debunked NY Times Story in His Myth-Riddled, Hypocritical, Flip-Flop on Green Jobs

green jobs

Conservative NY Times columnist David Brooks has decided to double down on the widely debunked NY Times hit-job on green jobs with his own piece of nonsense, “Where the Jobs Aren’t.”  Both pieces chose to ignore “explosive growth” documented in the sector by a major Brookings report.

Brooks’ piece is, in some respects, even worse, since just last year Brooks was championing green jobs.  Here is what he wrote in January 2010 after a panel discussion that included business executives:

I was once again reminded how many business and investment types are thinking quite practically and capitalistically about green, job-creating technologies. For us Hamiltonian conservatives who believe in internal improvements, energy and infrastructure are obviously the two big areas where we should be investing.

Now, less than 2 years later, he writes:

In his 2008 convention speech, Barack Obama promised to create five million green economy jobs. The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimated in April 2009 that green jobs could account for 10 percent of new job growth over the next 30 years.

Alas, it was not to be. The gigantic public investments in green energy may be stimulating innovation and helping the environment. But they are not evidence that the government knows how to create private-sector jobs.

Recently, Aaron Glantz reported in The Times on some of the disappointments.

A truly head-exploding flip-flop.

First, again, the clean energy economy has seen explosive growth since 2003, according to Brookings.  From 2008 to 2009, the entire broadly-defined clean economy grew 8.3% — much faster than the whole economy — thanks in part to the stimulus.  And as Climate Progress recently reported, “America is a $1.9 Billion Exporter of Solar Products” [see figure below].

Second, Brooks is saying that a little more than 2 years into the Conference of Mayors 30-year prediction, we know they are wrong. As I wrote of Glantz’s piece:  Imagine if, in 1963, two years after JFK’s famous speech to Congress, Brooks had run a story, “Space program fails to live up to promise.  It was not to be.”

Third, at least Glantz had the decency to mention that Obama promised to create those five million green economy jobs “over 10 years“!  And, of course, Obama’s promise was based on passage of a climate and clean energy jobs bill that Brooks’ conservative buddies in the Senate killed.

You can’t shoot the horse and then blame the rider for losing.

And this is where we get to Brooks’ hypocrisy.

In a 2005 piece on conservative intellectual exhaustion, “Running Out of Steam” he asserted:  “Global warming is real (conservatives secretly know this).”

Then, in the 2010 piece I excerpted above, he writes:

I totally accept the scientific authorities who say that global warming is real and that it is manmade….

I totally buy the argument that we need to set a cap on carbon emissions….

I was once again reminded how many business and investment types are thinking quite practically and capitalistically about green, job-creating technologies. For us Hamiltonian conservatives who believe in internal improvements, energy and infrastructure are obviously the two big areas where we should be investing.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that if you’re willing to give me nuclear power, I’m willing to follow Lindsey Graham’s lead and do a little bit on the cap-and-trade bill, which is an imperfect piece of legislation, God knows, but still probably good for the country.

Let’s be clear here.  The reason progressives know that In The Future, The Only Jobs Left Will Be Green is because we know that getting off of fossil fuels is both inevitable and urgent.  The whole point of the climate bill that Brooks supported just one year ago was to substantially replace fossil fuels in four decades with energy-efficient and low carbon technologies (including nuclear power, which received a significant boost in the bill).

Now why precisely is Brooks’ claiming to accept the science of global warming, the need to cap emissions and set a price, and the need to invest heavily in low carbon energy and infrastructure if he himself doesn’t understand the inevitability of it all?  The world is going to make this transition either in the near term or the medium term.  The only difference between the two is that if we do it in the near term, we have a far better chance of averting catastrophic global warming — and if we lead the way on clean energy, then we will be the ones creating the jobs manufacturing the low carbon technologies the world will be deploying at an ever accelerating rate.

Brooks’ piece today suggests that he either never believed what he wrote last year or he never understood it.

There are so many myths in Brooks piece I can’t respond to them all in one piece, but let me end with one that appears to be entering the right wing talking point Hall of Shame:

There’s a wealth of other evidence to suggest that the green economy will not be a short-term jobs machine. According to Investor’s Business Daily, executives at Johnson Controls turned $300 million in green technology grants into 150 jobs — that’s $2 million per job.

Brooks must know that IBD makes the Wall Street Journal editorial page look like NPR.  It is the only consistently less credible source of business news than Fox.

Climate Progress debunked that $2 million figure last month — see “Green Jobs Reality Check: Clean Energy Still Means More and Better Jobs for American Workers.”  Here is the full debunking one more time:

In August, President Obama visited a Johnson Controls plant in Holland, Michigan that is being brought on line with the help of Recovery Act funds, to manufacture advanced batteries in the U.S.A. for state of the art electric vehicles. In order to encourage development of three separate next-generation facilities for researching and producing batteries for clean cars, the government issued a $299 million grant to Johnson Controls.

In the first quarter of this year, this project had already created 148 jobs on a path to hiring 3,000 workers.  According to the website

“In preparation for building a new plant we have created positions necessary to manage the plant, manage the plant launch, and specify plant layout and required equipment, strategic sourcing, and to put plant system infrastructure in place. We have created positions necessary to hire plant staff and provide the on-boarding and technical training for new employees.”

However, a frenzy of conservative news outlets used the opportunity to claim that the jobs created at the plant cost federal taxpayers $2 million per person. (By simply dividing $299 million by 148 jobs outlined in the report, you conveniently get $2.02 million per job.)

That number is absolutely wrong and purposefully misleading.

The original article, whose headline boldly read “OBAMA VISITS CORPORATION WHERE HIS STIMULUS CREATED ‘GREEN’ JOBS AT $2 MILLION PER JOB” quietly admits further down in the article that this price is true only “if no more jobs are added.” Not surprisingly, the headline was not circulated with this critical disclaimer.

The article also failed to mention that development is less than 50% complete, less than one third of the funds have been spent, and further expansion will create thousands of jobs in the coming years. According to Johnson Controls, around 3,000 jobs will be created in the construction and operation of three separate facilities built with the $299 million grant.

That means the federal government is actually creating one job with every $100,000 spent on the project – not $2 million as this misleading coverage asserts. This investment in jobs actually compares very favorably to job creation from other types of energy projects.  According to U.S. Government statistics, the “price” of job creation is $145,000 per job for coal projects, over $193,000 per job in the oil and gas industry favored by conservative commentators, and a whopping $238,000 per job created from nuclear energy, or more than twice the cost per job when compared to energy efficiency. 

In addition, there are numerous other companies that will be supplying equipment for the plant – thus creating more indirect jobs. Neither the federal government nor Johnson Controls has hard numbers for this additional employment.

What we have here is a success story — an American industry rising from the ashes during a time when the American people need it the most. However, because conservatives view this success for Americans as a concurrent success for progressives, they are willing to throw it under the bus.


18 Responses to David Brooks Cites Debunked NY Times Story in His Myth-Riddled, Hypocritical, Flip-Flop on Green Jobs

  1. Eric Adler says:

    Great Response!

  2. David Engel says:

    While I agree with your conclusions regarding the correctness of statements made in the Brooks op/ed, I think you are overly critical of him as a conservative writer & thinker. I’ve followed his commentary for years and if all conservatives were as thoughtful as David Brooks our country would be a far more civil and better place. Isn’t there room for a bit more acceptance that Brooks was simply wrong or ill-informed in his opinion rather than being a hypocrit?

  3. Ken says:

    I marvel how these sorts of articles always bring such a reasoned and careful response from you. I just get sad when I read people like Brooks, so much conflict of interest and so little self awareness. But with your response available I can just tell someone to go and read Joe Romm.

  4. Joe Romm says:

    Thanks. This is a disappointment from Brooks.

  5. Joe Romm says:

    I agree that he is one of the more thoughtful conservative pundits. But he has been dragged to the right by the rest of the extremists.

    And I’m doubly disappointed that somebody would so quickly forget what they wrote and supposedly thought just last year. If he has changed his position, he should spell out why. But to simply acted as if he had never advanced the opposite position is beyond lame.

  6. Jeffrey Davis says:

    Brooks is a pompous clown.

  7. Can’t believe Brooks cites anything from Investors Business Daily. Caught them deliberately distorting a science study about climate change. In their “science” article they told readers how the sun was responsible for the current warming according the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. A quick check of the Institute’s website revealed their actual conclusion: “Solar activity affects the climate but plays only a minor role in the current global warming.”

    Became a good example on developing your own Denier BS detector:

  8. After reading Glantz’s 18-Aug-2011 Yellow Journalist article, I wrote both the New York Times’ Managing and Executive editors, attempting to notify them that the NY Times had received a black eye by publishing the shoddy work of an irresponsible and numerically illiterate reporter working for The Bay Citizen.

    David Brooks writes for the NY Times, so what’s going on here? Don’t these editors believe in fact checks before publishing editorials? I’m appalled and deeply disappointed that my letter to them was ignored.

    I also responded by writing this comment to David Brooks Op-Ed–they submitted it at entry #377, so few will read it…

  9. Ben Lieberman says:

    Once upon a time David Brooks occasionally mentioned climate change, but no more. He simply can not be bothered to write about it at all.

  10. dbruce says:

    David Brooks forgot to mention that Green Economy workers eat their young. I can’t believe he failed to mention that!

  11. Hank says:

    He may be a ‘pompous clown’ but the soapbox from which he speaks is considerably more far ranging than the think progress web blog.
    Debunking articles and calling people names here on this blog is just not getting the message out there at all.

  12. Tom Street says:

    The truth is that our economy is incapable of creating any kinds of jobs. The problems associated with producing green jobs are the same ones associated with any kinds of jobs. To focus on green jobs as if they are unique is missing the point and demonstrates that Brooks is just plain stupid and misinformed.

  13. Joe Romm says:

    What is the point of this comment? Errors should be debunked. The post had no name calling.

  14. Hank says:

    Apologies Joe. The name calling was in reply to the guy who replied before me, Jeffrey Davis, calling Brooks a pompous clown.
    Pompous he may be but he is getting his message out there.

  15. J says:

    I never thought green energy was to create jobs. Green energy should get us off foreign oil, etc.
    For every entrepreneurial effort supported by government or the private sector “there is a pile of instances in which it failed.”
    If the private sector is not developing projects, for whatever reason, the government needs to jump in. Our workers need paychecks to stimulate the economy and pay their bills.

  16. Yes, and the “Green Economy” has been conflated as the “Redemptive Economy”, as though it alone is supposed to restore the economy ravaged by the Great Recession and replace the jobs lost. Even if the 2001 or 2008 recessions never occurred, and the U.S. economy was still strong, we’d still want to establish a Green Economy.

    We’d want to usher in the era of clean and abundant energy to:
    1) assure the health of the planet and all the lifeforms it sustains;
    2) assure the energy needs of all nations, as each, especially in the Third World, strive to improve their quality of life and participate in the global economy;
    3) As a positive side effect, innovation and jobs would increase, as would be the case for any new economy. Any new economy, as, for example, here’s a potential new economy,, which Dr. Moller forecasts as a trillion dollar economy, AND IT’S NOT “GREEN” (aircraft is gas powered), yet this would create a whole new industry, competing with the auto industry.

    So, the Green Economy has just been reframed (and “framed”) as another form of single-issue, narrow-minded right-wing politics.

  17. Frank Johnson says:

    Other critical issues not readily apparent to Glantz or Brooks:
    1.) The economist quote re. the green economy – keeping macroeconomic conditions constant means no significant growth in employment. Instead, the green economy typically results in net shifts from failing or capital intensive sectors (automotive manufacturing or the electric power sector) to more labor-intensive green sector businesses. The quoted statement is economic sophistry.
    2.) In a depressed economy, there is less demand for most goods and services, including green ones. Helping on the supply side through government intervention is only part of the prescription. Aided by government or not, companies are not going to move to full employment WITHOUT DEMAND. As Romm notes, intervention on the demand side is critical, i.e. by pricing carbon externalities or having an RPS-like policy.