Green Jobs Are Putting America to Work

Doubt that green jobs are good for America? Ask workers getting paid to do them.

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Jerome Ringo is the former president of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition that promotes clean energy and green jobs. He is currently senior executive for global strategies with Green Port, a private company that focuses on establishing sustainable “green” ports around the world.

Can green jobs spur an economic recovery? There's no doubt about it. Just ask the veterans in Denver who once crawled around attics and tight spaces in Iraq and Afghanistan seeking terrorists but now crawl through homes in the United States to track down air leaks and find places that need insulation. After having graduated from a green jobs training program, they are among a new wave of workers who have found employment improving the energy efficiency of America's residential and commercial buildings.

Or ask the manufacturing workers in the Midwest who, because their companies successfully transitioned into clean energy manufacturing, escaped the job loss that befell millions of their brethren over the past decade. In Ohio, a business that once manufactured packaging materials now produces harvesters that transform algae into fuels and plastics. Another that produced large-diameter bolts for construction projects is now making bolts for wind turbines. Not only do these jobs provide the income and stability that Americans want, but they also contribute to U.S. energy independ­ence and fight global climate change.

The statistics don't lie: Even without a comprehensive national policy, clean energy jobs in the United States have grown at more than twice the rate of overall jobs over the past decade, according to a 2009 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Passage of a federal clean energy and climate bill will increase these job numbers exponentially by unleashing a torrent of economic innovation that has the potential not only to save our environment and climate but also to revive the U.S. economy.

Several states are already demonstrating the kind of positive economic transformation that can result from progressive clean energy and climate measures. In four years, Michigan has created more than 11,000 renewable energy jobs—at family-sustaining wages—and the state recently adopted a standard requiring that at least 10 percent of its power come from renewable sources by 2015.

Another sterling example is California. The state's decades-long commitment to forward-thinking climate policies has caused green job growth to outpace overall job creation in the state by a rate of almost 3 to 1 since 1995. A study released in December by Collaborative Economics and Next 10 showed that even during the economic crisis, green jobs in California grew 5 percent between 2007 and 2008 while total jobs dropped 1 percent.

The development of the green economy does present challenges. For example, Congress must include measures that prevent new clean energy manufacturing jobs from going overseas, a trend that has plagued American manufacturing for decades. We need to ensure that solar panels, wind turbines, electric car batteries, and the other components and systems of the clean energy infrastructure are made by American workers.

Additionally, as opponents of strong climate and energy policies argue, some jobs will be lost in the transition to a clean energy economy. Although these will be replaced by an even greater number of renewable energy jobs—a new study published in the journal Energy Policy found that non-fossil fuel technologies create more jobs per unit of energy than coal and natural gas do—it is critical that any energy bill include a program to support displaced workers. America has a long history of providing assistance to workers affected by major economic shifts. The GI Bill, for instance, provided financial support, education, and training to ease soldiers' transition back into the civilian economy after World War II.

The challenges can be overcome. Green jobs are no fantasy. They are putting food on tables right now and are growing quickly, despite a dearth of federal support. But until we embrace them, America will lag behind China and other countries that already see the economic potential of clean energy.