“An issue with the clean economy is that it’s growing very rapidly in some of the newer, much discussed renewable-energy, smart-grid, energy-efficiency areas—the so-called clean-tech bundle of segments—but those remain pretty small thus far,” said the Institute’s Mark Muro, a co-author of the report, in an online video companion piece. “So, while I think the intuition and promise of large-scale job creation is warranted, the present-day scale of these industries means that they’ll be moderate contributors for the next three to four years, or five years, and won’t immediately be able to offset the massive job losses we’ve seen in the last recession.”
It’s the same point that Van Jones says he tried to make to the Bay Citizen, which didn’t hang its argument on Brookings alone. In e-mails to Romm, Obama’s former green-jobs adviser claims the outlet misrepresented him. The last paragraph of its article reported that Jones had “scaled back” from his position that green jobs will be an be an economic plus.
“Contrary to the article, I explicitly told the reporter that I stand beside my prediction that the clean-energy sector will create millions of jobs ” Jones wrote to Romm. “The recession cost us nearly 10 million jobs, and there are an additional 15 million underemployed people in the United States. To fix America’s economy single-handedly, the clean energy sector would have to generate 10-25 million jobs, all by itself. We never said we could create 10-25 million US clean energy jobs, under any scenario.”
The Bay Citizen omitted other important caveats, such has the fact that the fastest-growing, albeit smallest, sectors of the green economy (those clean-tech jobs) are “producing a desirable array of jobs, including in manufacturing and export-oriented fields.” Or that, “The clean economy offers more opportunities and better pay for low-skilled workers than the national economy as a whole.”
Worse still, the Bay Citizen reported that the southern Bay Area (San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara) lost 492 green jobs between 2003 and 2010. But it didn’t mention that the surrounding San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area added 15,784 jobs, observed Cai Steger, an energy policy analyst and blogger for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Those data are available in an excellent interactive map that accompanied the Brookings report, which allows users to research green-job growth/destruction in the country’s hundred largest metropolitan areas.
The map is probably the most useful to journalists, although many didn’t make the most of it. Following the report’s release, dozens of papers around the country picked it up, publishing stories focused on how their local clean economies stacked up against the rest the country. Unfortunately, most of these publications ran just a few hundred words and didn’t go into any depth. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Utah is “lagging in ‘green jobs,’’’ and the San Jose Mercury News reported that the “Bay Area is a ‘clean economy’ powerhouse,” but neither dug into why.
Some papers did better. According to Brookings, one its report’s most important findings is “the fact that the number of jobs in ‘clustered’ clean-economy establishments grew significantly faster than did the number in their more isolated counterparts.” A story by the Times Union in Albany, New York, got the word “cluster” into the lead and followed up by explaining that “many of the workers are employed at sites such as the Albany NanoTech complex along Fuller Road or General Electric’s renewable energy headquarters in Schenectady.” An article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, whose hometown ranked fiftieth in the nation for green jobs, had a nice description of eastern Tennessee’s “Innovation Valley,” and included an interview with Thom Mason, its chair and the director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst with Brookings and one of the report’s co-authors, told The Detroit News that Michigan, the only state to lose green jobs, shed most of them outside the city, which is “clustered with manufacturing companies that spun off to do work in areas such as in battery technology.” Rothwell suggested to the Tusla World that if its city’s managers wanted to look at ripe areas for clustering, “Those would include wind and appliance and waste-to-energy as well as air and water purification technologies.”
Colorado’s Daily Camera boasted that, “Although Boulder was not one of the largest metropolitan areas included in the study, Brookings officials provided a similarly focused clean-economy profile to the Camera because of the region’s ‘super’ performance on key measures, officials said.” And the San Francisco Chronicle, while not mentioning the report at all, wrapped its key points into a story about Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s “plan for California’s economic future,” whose recommendations relied, to some extent, on input from Brookings.