President Obama’s energy policy speech today outlined new directions, both good and bad, for the country’s energy policy, but on the question of green jobs Obama sounded as though none of the events of the past few years made any impression on him.
For instance, Obama was careful to subtly stoke nationalist anxieties:
Guess what. Today, China has the most wind capacity. Germany has the most solar capacity. Both invest more in clean energy than we do, even though we are a larger economy and a substantially larger user of energy. We’ve fallen behind on what is going to be the key to our future.
Other countries are now exporting technology we pioneered and they’re going after the jobs that come with it because they know that the countries that lead the 21st century clean energy economy will be the countries that lead the 21st century global economy.
And he also provided an appeal to industrial policy:
And so even if we reduce our oil dependency, and we’re producing all these great electric cars, we’re going to have to have a plan to change the way we generate electricity in America so that it’s cleaner and safer and healthier. We know that ushering in a clean energy economy has the potential of creating untold numbers of new jobs and new businesses right here in the United States.
At this point you think he would be chastened, given how much he has had to downgrade his promises. This speech included include a pledge to cut the amount of oil we import by one third in 10 years. Two and a half years ago, he promised that 10 years from then we would import no oil from the Middle East at all. Also, two and a half years ago was the beginning of the jobs crisis that is still Obama’s number-one problem today. In the same energy speech in which he claimed that he would end all importation of oil from the Middle East, Obama promised that he would create “five million new, high-wage jobs by investing in the renewable sources of energy…”
Well, if that promise had ever been remotely realizable, Obama would have solved the recession and lingering unemployment would be almost entirely defeated. Of course, not only was the goal unachievable, but the means were also inappropriate for the task. Having the government spend money on employing people to build “clean energy” would reduce jobs on net, not create them.
The idea that he would create five million green jobs was always fantasy, but in 2008 the political climate was such that the public was willing to entertain it. With two years of joblessness having passed without the government creating or even trying to spark large-scale clean energy employment programs, it seems that most people have figured out that the promise of green jobs is an empty one. Yet the message from Obama is the same: emissions and other pollution reduction is not a worthwhile goal on its own, it must be accompanied by visions of a booming economy and full employment.