Sustainable Jobs For Pennsylvania in the 21st Century

Jul 9, 2013

Before exploring the issue of creating green jobs in the 21st century economy, Essential Pittsburgh took the time to air some answers to environmental questions from listeners.

In response to a question on why the energy conversation won't embrace the possibility of more drastic advances in alternative energy such as nuclear fusion, James Clad, a consultant and distinguished research fellow at the National Defense University acknowledged that the energy conversation had been turned into a one note discussion on fossil fuels. 

"The energy world is defined by oil and gas and everything else is just an add on." said Clad

Noting that the diversity of energy options was expanding quickly, Clad did stress that relying on natural gas as a bridge between our current situation and an alternative energy future was the only way to make such options feasible.

When asked about the Department of Defense and many insurance company's acknowledgement of the existence of global warming, John Radzilowicz  Director of Science at the Carnegie Science Center and Joylette Portlock, co-creator and star of independent video series "Don't Just Sit There - Do Something!" commented on the way that these advances reflect the serious risk climate change poses.

Portlock pointed out that the Department of Defense's interest in climate change exemplifies the fact that "This really is a natural security issue that we're dealing with."

On the subject of methane production, Radzilowicz was less optimistic than Clad, saying that "The extraction process [for natural gas] is more than making up" for the reduction in greenhouses gases from burning the fuel, adding that "Even as a stop gap, it still doesn't get us there."

The Future of Green Jobs

Much has been said about the future of America's green economy, including the President's bold declaration in 2011 that "Green jobs are the jobs of the future," but to what extent have those words become the reality?

According to David Foster, the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, the green economy is well on its way, and has quickly become one of the fastest growing sectors of the American economy. This is thanks in part to investment from the federal government, but there is still much work to be done.

For Duquesne University economics professor Antony Davies, one of the biggest obstacles in developing a thriving green economy is the federal government itself, warning that in tying the environment to job growth, "the president is conflating two separate goals."

According to Davies, with the government's insistence on establishing controlling energy policy, "big oil can divert government policy" and muddle the free market. Instead, Davies proposes a solution centered around property rights so that firms responsible for pollution pay for the damages.

"If you've got ships that are spewing pollution, you've got to hold companies responsible for that," Davies says. By playing a limited role, Davies asserts that the government can help protect the public from pollution while allowing the free market to control job creation.

Foster agrees that companies are not adequately fined for the damage they're doing to the environment, and sees a similar, though slightly more proactive, role for the federal government. By increasing environmental standards in areas such as automobile and appliance production, the federal government can force companies to invest some of the nearly $2 trillion on companies' balance sheets that has yet to be invested.

Furthermore, Foster argues that good government regulation, such as a Cap and Trade system would provide a framework that pushes energy companies to invest in cleaner solutions. "We would have the free market acting at its best," he says.

The result of these initiatives is, in Foster's view, well paying jobs that can benefit the environment and the economy at the same time, saying that "a green job is nothing but a blue collar job" for a green purpose.