News Column

Green Economy: Not Your Granddad's Job Market Any Longer

Nov. 19, 2012

Julie Delcour

wind farm

Our daughter has a friend whose green job requires him to shinny up through the innards of 300-foot wind turbines, checking and adding components and wire.

He climbs 3,600 feet a week. In a month, that's about the same distance as going up Pike's Peak or halfway up Mount Everest.

This is not sissy work. He's climbed in 100-degree heat. He's dodged irate wasps. When he's standing on metal and sees lightning he follows one rule: Descend faster than a bat out of hell.

So far, his job's taken him only to Texas and Kansas although Oklahoma has plenty of wind turbines. What Oklahoma does not have is plenty of green jobs. It ranks a lowly 48th in the nation in that job category, according to an Economic Policy Institute study released last month.

In terms of green intensity - the share of total jobs that are green - Oklahoma needs to catch up but the potential is there, says Ethan Pollack, EPI senior analyst. Some of the bottom 10 states have enormous opportunities for improvement if government and private industry get on board.

The fact that Oklahoma is primarily an oil- and gas-producing state is not a deal-breaker for a greener economy. "The main thrust of the green jobs concept argues that the transition from a fossil- fuel based economy to a green economy need not cost net jobs," Pollack said.

Advantages of green

Oklahoma stands to gain from transitioning to a greener economy, and here's why:

Industries with higher proportions of green jobs have higher job growth than does the overall economy.

Projections for the future suggest continued job growth from green intensity.

States with more green jobs during the recent recession generally fared better.

"Transitioning to a greener and more sustainable economy is good for the environment, but it also helps promote stronger economic growth and opportunity," Pollack said. "And the seeds of this transformation are planted throughout the economy, oftentimes in unexpected places."

Here's one of those unexpected places: For years, Oklahoma leaders have pushed for more college degrees. That's a noble goal but one not easy to obtain quickly. What's promising about a greener economy is that those jobs are accessible to people with a college degree and those without one.

Jobs in the green economy tend to require less formal education than jobs in the rest of the economy while paying better wages. "If we want economic policy to work for the nearly 70 percent of American workers without a four-year college degree, green investments offer an option," Pollack said.

Who's green, who's not

The states with the most green jobs are Vermont, Pennsylvania, Washington, Colorado and Oregon. At the bottom are Arizona, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida and Nevada. What separates the two sets of states? Often it's the state's industry mix.

The bottom 10 tend to have a dirtier industry mix.

What is sometimes overlooked is a good definition of a green job. Pollack offers two examples:

A construction company and its workers can in one month retrofit a hospital to make it more energy efficient and in the next month build a strip mall that meets no green building or energy-efficient standards. Is that construction company a green business?

By the same token is a manufacturer that produces parts for both pollution-control scrubbers and weapons systems a green business?

Leading the way in green jobs are the federal, state and local governments. Of the more than 3.1 million green jobs in the U.S., 73 percent are in the private sector; 5 percent are in the federal government; 7 percent, in state governments, and 15 percent in local governments.

Green jobs pervasive

Often, much of the commentary surrounding green jobs has focused on jobs in the renewable energy industry, such as solar-panel installers or wind-turbine manufacturers, "but this misses just how pervasive green jobs are throughout the economy," Pollack said.

Occupations such as trash collectors, sewage workers, construction crews, household-appliance manufacturers and bus drivers are as integral to the green economy as solar-panel installers or wind-turbine manufacturer, Pollack said.

Oklahoma's leaders need to keep in mind that a greener economy is better for the state and not just in terms of the environment.

Oklahoma cannot and should not remain 48th in numbers of green jobs. A greener economy here, a state so long identified with nonrenewable fossil fuels, is possible and can exist right alongside existing industries.

"The seeds of green transition are planted. The fundamental structure of the economy will remain intact. So, the vision of a greener world isn't so radical but rather it is something that already is happening all around us," Pollack said.

Source: (C) 2012 Tulsa World. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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