Backyard Talk

Let's Debate the Real Facts Tonight-When Jobs Are Raised

Tonight’s debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney is about foreign policy. However, the issue of jobs is going to be injected because that is THE talking point for both candidates. Yet green clean jobs and economic growth is almost never mentioned as if it were a curse word.

Neither candidate is likely to mention the fact, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institute, that sectors like clean energy, green building, and efficient transport employ 2.7 million workers — more than the biosciences and fossil fuel sectors. Furthermore, these jobs actually pay better than an average job. The Brookings report show, yet again, that environmental sustainability isn’t some passing fad or a feel-good exercise, it’s a natural progression of the economy. If we could only get our leaders to pay attention.

Another interesting fact that Brookings reported is that the jobs created from 2008-2009 grew at almost double what the overall economy grew during those same years. An analysis from the Center for American Progress found that clean-energy investments create about 16.7 jobs for every $1 million in spending. Spending on fossil fuels, by contrast, generates 5.3 jobs per $1 million in spending. Why isn’t this being talked about in the debates or on the campaign trail of either candidate? The most important take-away from the report is that the clean economy — which has become a large portion of our overall economy — comes with immense benefits beyond the obvious environmental factors. People will be less exposed to chemicals and other toxins associated with the fossil fuel industry, resulting in less disease, special educational teachers and millions of dollars spent cleaning up the mess.

China is likely to be mentioned in this debate but I’ll bet neither candidate will talk about China’s investments in clean energy. According to the report American firms are losing market share both at home and abroad to competitors from other nations. An enormous part of the answer has to do with China’s ability to channel vast sums of affordable capital into innovative large-scale deployment projects—something that the U.S. continues to struggle with. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2010, China put into place a staggering $54.4 billion in clean energy investments. Of this, asset financing—funding for hard assets like wind farms and solar arrays—accounted for more than $47 billion of the total. By contrast, U.S. private investment in clean energy totaled $34 billion, with just $21 billion or so in asset finance. Now the gap is widening further, with Chinese asset finance investment in at $10.9 billion as compared to just $2 billion in the United States. Could this investment by China be because China isn’t run by or owned by the large oil and gas industries?

The recent report confirms that these exciting clean-energy industries really are growing as fast as we think they are. The challenge is to get to our elected leaders and those running for election and demand that they stop talking about out-dated energy options and job creation and begin moving on the investments that will provide good wages, environmentally safer and economically better futures for all Americans.