Could you explain to our readers the thesis of the article “Biden’s ‘green jobs’ mirage” (American Enterprise Institute)?
Our thesis is that green jobs training is not the same thing as green jobs employment. During the Obama administration, the U.S. invested heavily in skills training for green sectors like weatherization and solar panel installation but without sufficient economic demand for these workers. This led to waste and frustration both for government funders and training participants. The only way to create the necessary demand is to impose policy “backstops” – tougher carbon emission laws and regulations and requirements for use of green technology – that do not yet exist in the U.S. to the degree they are being used elsewhere, including Europe, and are unlikely to given the polarized American political context. This means green job training is like “pushing on a string”. In the meantime, the U.S. is experiencing high rates of unemployment related to COVID-19 that demands serious investment in retraining for workers, primarily those in the service and hospitality sectors, whose jobs may not return in sufficient numbers to meet the need for work. By diverting limited resources to green job training where employment demand is insufficient and growing slowly, we miss addressing the immediate needs of individuals and families struggling to restart their lives and careers.
In the U.S., much work remains to be done to persuade a sufficient number of Americans that the costs of future climate change impacts exceed those associated with major changes to the economy and patterns of fossil energy consumption. Until that threshold is met, Congress and the Biden administration will be limited in the types of federal laws and regulations it is able to impose on the economy and will be, to an extent, dependent on executive orders which would be easily reversed or modified by a future administration with different policy views.
The ecological question and the technological factor are at the center of the interests of The Science of Where Magazine. How do these two dynamics intersect?
Everyone hopes that technological development will answer some of the difficult questions we are facing now and in the future. The response of the biotechnology sector to the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how quickly science is able to move to address a crisis when properly incentivized to do so. On climate, as on many other issues, we need to support scientists in thinking flexibly and creatively about both solutions and mitigation. It may not be possible to reverse climate change completely but science may offer us ways of slowing it down and providing tools for managing some of its negative impacts. Our children and grandchildren need us to invest in a secure environmental future but in a way that also affords short- and medium-term social and economic opportunity.
Finally, how do you rate the Biden administration’s multilateral approach? Isn’t this a way of addressing global challenges – such as climate change – by calling the “international community” to responsibility?
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything it is that in some areas, like human health and epidemiology, nations should not try to “go it alone”. While we have to respect the unique attributes of all countries and cultures, on an increasingly crowded and interdependent planet, some areas require multilateral policies, and I’m hopeful that the Biden administration and future U.S. administrations will recognize and work for the kind of cooperation that recognizes both global diversity and our shared interests and needs.