To be fair, Brookings repeatedly acknowledged that the large growth in the younger, clean-tech sectors stems from “small bases.” In other words, the absolute number of jobs was relatively small, making the relative growth seem more significant. But the bottom line, according to Brookings, is that “today’s clean economy establishments added half a million jobs between 2003 and 2010.” That’s not torrid enough to meet Obama’s target.
Romm glossed over that, although he was correct to argue that, to some extent, the Bay Citizen’s article was “premature”—as he put it, like writing the story, “Space program fails to live up to its promises,” in 1963. We are only two years into Obama’s ten-year pledge, Romm pointed out. Brookings’s report took that into account, but the Bay Citizen did not.
“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.