Like many Americans, I am an avid listener to American Public Radio’s “Marketplace Show.” As their website proudly proclaims: “Marketplace [is] the most widely heard program on business and the economy — radio or television, commercial or public broadcasting — in the country.” This past Friday, they did their weekly roundup on the economy and focused on manufacturing jobs in response to emphasis placed on the topic by both of the Presidential campaigns. The featured guests, John Carney of the Wall Street Journal and Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, displayed gross ignorance about the issue.
At minute 3:00 Rampell weighs in on whether the clean energy jobs would really put the laid-off manufacturing sector workers back in the workforce. At 4:30, Carney claims that clean energy jobs are “science fiction.” I know that Marketplace knows better because Scott Tong does excellent clean energy reporting on the show on a regular basis.
Independence is the heart of American identity. Clean energy is independence turned into electrons. Tweet This Quote
Allow me to set the record straight.
Between 2014 and 2015, the solar industry alone created one out of every 78 jobs in the United States. If including wind, LED lighting, and other clean energy categories, that number could be closer to one in 33. For the solar industry, a majority of these new jobs are blue-collar construction and manufacturing jobs that pay an average of $21 per hour – far higher than the $16-per-hour, non-union manufacturing jobs touted by South Carolina later in that episode. Even as host, Kai Ryssdal jumped into the bashing by expressing his incredulity that clean energy could make a dent in hiring laid-off manufacturing and mining workers.
In reality, the solar industry has hired more veterans than anyone else, retrained coal workers, and even found a soft landing for oil and gas workers who had lost their jobs. The vast majority of solar and wind workers are trained in less than six months because their previous work experience and training is completely transferrable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind technician is the fastest-growing job category at 108 percent over course of the next 10 years — more than twice as much as the next-fastest growing job, occupational therapy assistant.
In 2015, the manufacturing part of the solar and wind industries had over 100,000 people making pieces and parts in the United States. This indicates a 20 percent increase, or over 20,000 more people, since the previous year. In fact, this number is only expected to continue to grow at that rate for the next five years.
Unfortunately, the clean energy conversation is profoundly and unnecessarily polarizing. Tweet This Quote
So how did Marketplace get these things all wrong? How do journalists from the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal not know that solar and wind power now make up over 75 percent of new electric-capacity additions in the United States – equating to over $70 billion in new capital investment in 2016 alone. In so doing, these industries are generating substantial fees for investment banks, lawyers, and accountants, as well as advertising dollars for their newspapers and radio shows.
My sense is that the show’s guests want to run as far away from environmentalists as possible. Clean energy in the United States has been defined by earnest environmentalists who, to their credit, embraced the movement wholeheartedly. Yet to our collective detriment, these same environmentalists spun an ideological, naïve story divorced from the reality of the energy economy transformation actually taking shape around us.
The result is that clean energy is mistakenly seen as a passive and precious solution for a future society — a delicate sunflower waving in the face of a coal miner, a pristine field of green and sky of blue set against a dirt mound penetrated by a fracking rig. It feels more utopian than aspirational, more luxury than necessity. In short, it doesn’t feel American.
Clean energy is mistakenly seen as a passive and precious solution for a future society, more luxury than necessity. Tweet This Quote
American is can-do, right-now, yes ma’am. Luckily, the actual transformation of the energy economy is as American as the Hoover Dam or the interstate highways, and even more earth-shaking. If only the discussion among politicians, media, business leaders, and — most importantly — the American public reflected that reality.
Unfortunately, the clean energy conversation is profoundly and unnecessarily polarizing. Like climate change itself, it’s become part of a larger culture war that fits neatly into the media’s all-too-predictable tendency of false equivalence, pitting workers against activists, businessmen against academics, and common sense against idealism. As a result, according to recent surveys, public sentiment about the urgency of action to prevent climate change is split along party lines between “LET’S DO SOMETHING!” and “meh.”
The energy might be clean, but the work and the jobs are as rooted in dirt, sweat, and back-breaking labor as any American endeavor — even longer lasting.
By rebranding clean energy, we can empower all Americans to work together for a stronger future. Tweet This Quote
We need to change the conversation to align with the deeply emotional and aspirational narratives that speak to the American public. Clean energy could feel as all-American, cutting-edge, rugged, reliable, resilient, and tough as fracking. The same American ideals of independence, freedom, self-sufficiency, and opportunity can bring together green advocates and Tea Party stalwarts, labor and entrepreneurs, main street and Wall Street.
Independence is the heart of American identity. Clean energy is independence turned into electrons. It is the application of cunning, sweat, and ingenuity to harness the restless power of the American landscape.
The American energy economy is changing, and changing rapidly. Clean energy and energy efficiency is where the growth resides, and we can move millions of people from coal mining, low-tech manufacturing, and even oil and gas into well-paying jobs that don’t negatively impact their health or that of the planet. By rebranding clean energy, we can empower all Americans to work together for a stronger future. It’s time to get down and dirty.
This post originally appeared in 2016.