The Green Challenge: An Introduction

The green economy will get an $80 billion boost from President Barack Obama's recovery package in the form of direct spending, loan guarantees, and tax incentives. A clean-energy economy offers not just savings in imported oil and reductions in carbon emissions necessary to save the planet but jobs and new industries -- and not just jobs, good jobs.

The $80 billion is just a down payment on a conversion that will take far longer than two years. We will need trillions of dollars to maximize the potential of a clean-energy economy. And that outlay needs to be strategic. To succeed, we need to get beyond naive cheerleading and pursue tough questions.

Will the promise be realized? In this special report, several articles explore the job potential of diverse green sectors such as renewable energy, public transportation, efficiency, and environmental cleanup. Another focus is on who will get the jobs and where they will be. My own article focuses on cities and states trying to develop renewable-energy industries.

Elsewhere in the report, Robert Pollin explores the potential gains of a green employment strategy and how to pay for it. Philip Mattera explains that without unionization and stipulations on the other public funds that wind- and solar-energy producers receive, not all of these green jobs will be good jobs. Jonathan Feldman makes the case for an industrial-policy initiative for producing the new subway and light-rail cars, street cars, and buses that will be added as a result of the $8.4 billion dedicated to public transportation. Although the stimulus plan allocates about $20 billion in tax incentives to catalyze the development of wind-, solar-, and other renewable-energy projects, George Sterzinger explains why projects on the ground need to be combined with a coherent manufacturing policy to capture domestic production of such technologies as wind turbines and solar panels and truly realize the job potential. And Brentin Mock examines the promise of green jobs as part of an environmental-justice agenda for urban minority populations.

These articles suggest that the green stimulus has to be part of a broader industrial policy -- an idea that has been in general disrepute in the United States. Meanwhile, nations like Germany have policies that connect national and local initiatives, and aim to keep them at the forefront of emerging manufacturing technologies. As this special report will show, the United States actually does have industrial policies. In fact, it has many industrial policies for solar (and wind) energy. The problem is that they are fragmented, often competitive with each other, and do not add up to either a coherent national industry or energy policy. Jane Burgermeister provides some insights into what we can learn from Europe.

In sum, a green economic renaissance is not guaranteed unless we develop the right policies. The shift to a cleaner, greener economy is an opportunity for long-sought goals of jobs, justice, and revived manufacturing. Will we seize the moment?

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