The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has been hailed as an environmental triumph. Specifically, the stimulus package’s promise is in its potential to create green jobs, principally in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. And to most environmentalist’s joy, money for two hotly contested environmental issues, nuclear power and clean coal, were dropped from the final bill. Green jobs, in an energy industry which boasts more potential than IT, were going to simultaneously lift us out of an economic recession and fend off climate change. For the past month, however, the economy has shown signs of picking back up without the help of stimulus funds.
In the past month, the stock market has increased and the beginning of first quarter reports has been quite encouraging. A few days ago, Wells Fargo announced a big first quarter profit, an excellent sign from the troubled banking industry. The remainder of first quarter reports will have a big impact on whether investors think the market has bottomed out yet or not. This could very well be a short-term trend or perhaps an authentic road to recovery. At first blush it would seem the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had started to make changes. However, as NY Times Columnist and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman explained on NPR, the act was signed six weeks ago so only an insignificant amount of stimulus money is in the economy; the positive outlook is due much more to the Federal Reserve board’s robust interest rate cuts.
It seems that green jobs might not be an economic savior. After all, the current economic crisis was thought by some to be the inevitable result of a fossil-fueled, speculation-based, over-consuming economic system. Terrible as the direct impact of the recession has been on the average American, it could have been a correcting measure for the economy as a whole. Americans were driving less and growing more gardens. But if everything returns to normal, very few results have been gained.
The fact remains, however, that even if the economy can rebound to its old form, its lifespan is limited. And even if the economy recovers without the salvation of green jobs and the clean energy sector, it is difficult to think that the federal government’s investments and the current administration’s priorities will let things go on as normal. Consider the Washington Post’s breakdown of the $48.9 billion spent on energy and water:
– $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for renewable energy systems and electricity transmission
– $18.5 for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs
– $ Other, including modernizing the electricity grid
Additionally, Obama’s climate change stance, energy policy, and the upcoming climate meeting in Copenhagen all set the stage for an unprecedented next couple of years.
We could wish that green jobs will bring our economy back to what it was a year ago, but really we should wish that green jobs create a better economy altogether. The changes that the stimulus package implements must be independent of the current economic model if it is truly to be sustainable. An economy that matures, that experiences growth to a limit, is sustainable. One that uses energy endlessly and is based upon constant growth is not. An economy that builds durable houses for people, not just for a developer’s profits, is itself durable. That is part of the appeal of stimulus funds for creating green jobs – it is based on programs like weatherization for low income homeowners, improved energy efficiency and conservation, and local transit systems. These are programs which can change our economics.