You probably heard the phrase “green-collar jobs” uttered at both party conventions. The speakers were not touting hemp shirts, but an economic sector that could provide the U.S. with its next boom. The potential is real, and Maine has a chance to get in on the action.
Historically, technological innovation has spurred economic activity. In the 20th century, bursts of investment, job creation and consumer wealth have followed some of the big leaps forward: the Ford Model-T, which made owning a car possible for even the factory workers who built them; the radio, which suddenly became the medium through which Americans collectively were entertained and informed; and, most recently, the Internet. As fond as Democrats are of reminding voters of the booming economy of the 1990s, the good times had more to do with Bill Gates than Bill Clinton.
So, despite the bleak times we find ourselves in, with bank failures and high consumer prices tied to high energy prices, there is a break in the clouds, if government and business are ready to make the most of it.
When the U.S. truly accepts and makes peace with the fact that the petroleum economy is in permanent decline, the race will be on to develop alternative fuels, new power generation mechanisms, efficient buildings and vehicles. While the federal government is emptying its pockets to pay for two wars and several banks, it must also find the resources to provide financial incentives for industry to shift gears to head into this new frontier.
A report by the Political Economic Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, “Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy,” recommends a short-term $100 billion “green economic recovery package.” The report claims such a move would “create nearly four times more total jobs than spending the same amount of money with the oil industry, and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.”
Such investment would especially boost employment in the construction and manufacturing sectors, the report says, perhaps bringing back 800,000 construction jobs. This where Maine has an opening. Instead of importing windmill components from Europe, or pellet furnaces, or electric cars, or solar-power components, or new light freight rail equipment, they could be manufactured here.
As anticipated in the report, the $100 billion would be dispersed through tax credits and loan guarantees for private businesses.
The jobs such an investment strategy would create are not all high-tech: Wind farm construction creates jobs for “sheet metal workers, machinists and truck drivers, among many others. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings through retrofitting requires roofers, insulators and building inspectors. Expanding mass transit systems employs civil engineers, electricians, and dispatchers,” the institute notes.
And as important as the investment is, the federal government also can help jump-start the green economy by unequivocally pointing toward this future.