Stalling of Climate-Energy Bill Hurts Economy

lttr_green_jobs.gifUtilities, energy businesses and clean tech companies have all taken a big hit with the stall of the Climate Bill in the Senate. Don’t look for the favored immigration bill to create many jobs or
boost innovation in technology or manufacturing.

The Wall Street Journal reported tonight
that business leaders from energy, utility and clean tech sectors have
protested Congress and the Obama administration’s apparent decision to
put an immigration bill ahead of a climate-clean energy bill in
Congress. Some clean tech related stocks also lost market valuation today with this change of priorities.

The North American clean tech venture-funded market totaled about $3.4 billion in 2009, 62% of the global $5.6 billion market.
Such investments are much more at risk if no action is taken on climate
and energy in Congress, the likely result of immigration’s new status
at the top of the Congressional agenda.

The Wall Street Journal
quoted the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, “The U.S. faces a critical moment that will determine whether we will
be able to unleash billions in energy investments or remain mired in
the economic status quo.”

So where are the jobs and financial gains from an immigration bill? How
about law enforcement? There may be an uptick of enforcement personnel
hired, particularly in the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) agency. These jobs pay about $34-$39,000 on an annual basis and this agency has 19,000 jobs.

Border patrol jobs pay up to $50,000 and there are about 18,000 of these jobs. Let’s say both those numbers of jobs double if immigration reform goes through Congress, with about 75,000 jobs, tops. Throw in an extra 50,000 jobs in other miscellaneous agencies or companies. So that’s 125,000.

In contrast, clean tech’s lowest earning jobs for those with a high school degree pay from $36,100 a year to $72,900 a year.
Executive clean tech jobs can earn well over $200,000, with middle
management opportunities for those with college degrees in the
$60,000-$180,000 range.

The clean tech industry also is likely to
produce far more jobs in sheer numbers. Last year, there were an estimated 770,000 clean tech jobs.
These jobs are distributed across the nation (California, Colorado,
Oregon, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas) whereas
most immigration-related jobs are concentrated in southern border states (Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, California only).

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla recently credited California’s 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) with encouraging innovation on the order of creating “ten Googles because of it.”

So the move to the head of the queue in DC for immigration reform is
obviously not about the economy. But shouldn’t just about every major
national initiative at least cast a sidelong glance at job-creation
potential, especially if we want to continue on the road to recovery?

Then there are critical issues such air pollution, US lack of
leadership in math and science, as well as national security implications from foreign energy dependence.

Our climate’s abrupt change is, of course, also paramount, endangering health, the economy and the environment, on a global basis. 

Sounds like there are some seriously misplaced priorities inside the Beltway.

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon


Vision for Sustainability, Resiliencey by Post Carbon Institute

What will we do post growth, post cheap energy, post resource abundance and post climate change? The Post Carbon Institute (PCI) convened its first meeting of Fellows this weekend in Berkeley to address these concerns. Many there and elsewhere have argued that these transformational changes are already becoming evident.

PCI Fellow Bill Rees, the co-originator of the Ecological Footprint, captured the mood of the group best when he said, “We have to adapt to the change rather then repress the change.”

The Institute’s Fellows were gathered by PCI from a wide variety of fields: energy, transportation, population, food/ agriculture, building and development, economics, social justice, education, urban issues, health, climate, biodiversity and water. The event marked a maiden face-to-face (and virtual) voyage to examine the brave new waters of the 21st century. About 25 of PCI’s 29 Fellows participated.

PCI Fellows Retreat, David Brower Center, Berkeley (Post Carbon Institute photo)

Asher Miller, PCI’s executive director set the table for the three-day event. “Facing such daunting issues, we can either: 1) pack up and go home; 2) be a witness to history; 3) save what we can, which I call the Noah’s Ark approach; or 4) work as hard as we can, and go as big as can go. Collectively we can come up with one thing, or do lots of things–we don’t know which one will bring the best results.”

The group of Fellows up until this point has been focused on producing a book (cover pictured above) of essays and case studies that will be released by University of California Press with Watershed Media in July, The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises.

The Berkeley retreat focused on developing connective tissue among Fellows through facilitated exercises, planning and presentations. Some highlights–or lowlights–as many of the participants (myself included)  could be accused of being bearers of bad news:

Richard Heinberg, the Senior Fellow whose extensive work (The Party’s Over, Blackout, Peak Everything) has provided a nexus for PCI while helping define “Peak Oil” thinking, has spoken to world leaders from Congress to European Parliament.

“I have nothing to show for all my presentation to political leaders,” Heinberg said. “Anyone who questions the concept of growth is shunted off.”

Erika Allen, Chicago manager for Growing Power, a national land trust that provides access to healthy local food in disadvantaged communities, explored a scenario where food supplies are cut off because of an energy supply disruption or other crisis. “We’ve been preparing around the principles of providing seven days of food for Chicago–what systems are in place to respond? We need to be able to grow food on concrete and on the tops of buildings.”

The issue of sustainable agriculture, both urban and rural, was an overall emergent issue of the weekend, with talismanic Wes Jackson, founder and director of The Land Institute, providing an urgent view into a survival system that has been taken for granted.

“In the long run, soil is more important than oil,” Jackson said, citing research that soil carbon concentrations in US have been halved since non-indigenous settlement, from 6 percent to 3 percent, because of poor conservation and industrial practices.

Grave consequences for climate-change influenced mass migrations were forecast by Brian Schwartz, a Johns Hopkins professor in public health. “Moving populations (because of climate change) will be very bad for society, the environment and health in every aspect.”

Chris Martenson’s The Crash Course presentation examined unsustainable levels of US debt, uncovering shocking new snapshots on the historic level of government and personal debt after a decade with zero job growth.

Martenson, a former corporate executive, later confessed that there are emerging opportunities in certain investments, job sectors and geographic areas. He was also optimistic about the can-do nature of Americans: “Give people something to do, and they’ll put it together with joy and creativity, such as the Burning Man village.”

Similarly, Rob Hopkins, the originator of the Transition Town movement, reported from the UK via Skype video (he gave up flying three years ago) that the effort to form locally organized community resilience around food, energy, construction and culture is rapidly multiplying in global locations. “It’s spreading very, very fast, with new Transition Towns in Chile, Sweden, Canada, Italy and Australia.”

“With resilience, we see an opportunity to take a shock and then make a step by the community in the right direction so it can advance itself,” Hopkins said of the 300-plus transition initiatives. “Our role isn’t to manage a lot of projects, but to support projects as they emerge.”

Other Fellows presenting included author Bill McKibben (The End of Nature and, Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, and Rees, a professor at the University of British Columbia. Joe Brewer, founder and director of communications strategy consultancy Cognitive Policy Works, also led sessions on communications and messaging.

The results of the event included a forthcoming mission statement that was co-authored by nine different groups. My group on cities also consisted of Johns Hopkins professor Schwartz, City University of New York professor (and former New York City green building standard originator) Hillary Brown, and transportation expert Anthony Perl, author of Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

We contributed concepts around “bioregionally grounded human communities” based on non-automotive transportation options, human-scaled neighborhoods and regionally produced sustainable food and energy. 

Groups also prepared proposals for collaboration and post-event project action, including a Resiliency Preparedness Kit; a communications strategy and roll-out plan; a regional sustainable agriculture investment model for production, processing and urban distribution; and a PCI-informed community development prototype approach for both domestic (Oberlin, Ohio) and international (most likely India or China) communities.

“We need to foster experimentation, re-localization,and  differentiation in our redundancies and behavior,” said PCI executive director Miller. “Simple living can make us happier and can tap into the long history of humans as a species.”

Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon


City Clean Tech Incubation: How Does Toledo Beat Austin?

Great article in The American Progressive this week from Northeastern University’s Joan Fitzgerald on how Toledo, Ohio, has become a mecca for clean tech development, particularly thin-film solar.
Holy Toledo!

Fitzgerald compares Toledo, with its 6,000 solar management, research or manufacturing jobs; 15 research or manufacturing locations; and public-private research collaboration (the University of Toledo–who knew?) with Austin.

You know, Austin, with its forward-thinking 30% by 2020 city renewable portfolio standard. Austin, home of the Clean Energy Incubator that is run in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Texas. Austin Energy, the municipally owned utility that opens up its grid for testing to start-ups and early-stage clean tech companies in solar (HelioVolt) and energy storage.

Turns out Austin has produced and retained, by Fitzgerald’s estimates, a few hundred jobs in research and manufacturing and a few thousand in design and construction. Not bad, but worth all the tax incentives and fuss?

The secret sauce for Toldeo was the presence of extensive glass manufacturing facilities and associated know-how (Owens-Corning), a key solar array component.

The state of Ohio also has been boosting renewable energy R&D and job training through an Advanced Energy Job Stimulus Fund. Combine that with an effective privately funded regional growth partnership, and you have the right stuff to retool rustbelt facilities and workers for the 21st century. Upon that setting grew the nation’s largest and most cost-competitive thin-film solar manufacturer First Solar, along with Xunlight and Solargystics.

The story of Toledo’s clean tech industry goes far beyond the shores of Lake Erie into Asia, Europe and other global locations, where Toledo-based companies are setting up manufacturing and distribution operations to supplement US production.

So now when you think of global clean tech incubation centers, think of Austin, along with the Silicon Valley, Boston, Denver, and Southern California. And then dream of what can be done for the economy of our nation’s metro regions based on, yes, The Toledo Model.