Consultant: Green Jobs Not an Automatic Fix

In the current uncertain economic climate, it's easy to accept the logic of investing in green technologies as the ultimate tonic for both an ailing planet and a sick economy. But the sweeping claims being made about this solution to the nation's current economic problems merits closer scrutiny, says Jerry Yudelson, author of eight books on corporate sustainability and green building.

"The idea that green jobs can solve both climate change and the current recession is a tall order," says Yudelson, as he explains that both of these issues are incredibly complicated problems that require thoughtful, carefully calculated solutions. "Green investment is certainly a remedy for hard times," he adds, "but it may not be a cure."

Yudelson's analysis of the impact of green investment and green job creation is contained in a new white paper "Green Jobs: Separating Hype from Reality," published by his firm, Yudelson Associates, and co-authored with Jaime Galayda, Ph.D. The report investigates the job definitions, growth forecasts, and investment projections that paint a more complete picture of the relationship between green jobs, government action to address climate change, and the health of the nation's economy.

In order to separate hype from reality, the authors first attempt to clarify the definition of what constitutes a "green economy" job. They quote Van Jones, special adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and author, who posits that these are either jobs related to blue-collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment or family-supporting, career track, vocational or trade-level employment in environmentally friendly fields.

Examples of these types of jobs would include solar panel and solar hot water installers, farmers engaged in biofuel production, renewable energy power station technicians, and construction workers who build energy-efficient buildings.

But how many of these jobs can be tied to economic recovery? According to the Yudelson white paper, green employment in the United States will be turbocharged by the passage of The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, a.k.a. the "stimulus package," in February, 2009. The bill provides $75 billion for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and the smart grid. In addition, the Obama administration's 2010 budget includes significant revenues from proposed carbon cap-and-trade rules, with as much as $150 billion in carbon reduction revenues targeted for clean energy programs and tax incentives by 2018.

The Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts estimate that $100 billion invested in green economic recovery programs over the next two years could create 2 million green jobs in renewable energy, advanced biofuels, smart grid improvements, expanding mass transit and freight rail lines, and energy efficient building retrofits.

But this new employment will only partially offset the loss of 5 million jobs already suffered in the nation's recession.

"What's really at issue here is how we can invest productively to create the maximum number of new jobs." Yudelson suggests that retrofitting existing buildings for energy efficiency is the best place to start, because reductions in energy costs will have a more immediate effect than investments in renewable energy. As far as he's concerned, "that's job one in the current economic downturn."