Green Jobs for Future

The Bush/Cheney administration and John McCain’s presidential campaign are engaging in fraudulent demagoguery that the US can drill its way out of high gas prices.

Barack Obama and the Democrats have taken advantage of voter alienation with neocon economic policies and the Bush administration’s disastrous occupation of Iraq. Obama has hardly missed a beat since he clinched the Democratic nomination. He has consolidated leads over McCain in blue states and polls show he has built leads in swing states such as Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Pennsylvania. After Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki embraced Obama’s proposal to withdraw US forces from Iraq, it looks like the only chance McCain has to turn the presidential race around in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire is if he can tie high gas prices to Obama and the Democrats.

So Bush has called on Congress to lift bans on offshore drilling, even as oil companies fail to exploit currently permitted oilfields, and in spite of Department of Energy findings that increasing domestic oil production would take years and perhaps result in the drop of a few cents per gallon.

McCain followed up on July 21 with an ad that blames Obama. “Gas prices $4, $5, no end in sight,” the ad’s narrator says, “because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.” The narrator asks, “Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?” Up comes a picture of Obama as his name is chanted in the background.

McCain was a little more realistic a couple months earlier, in a May 29 campaign stop in Greendale, Wis., when he said offshore drilling would be a waste of time and effort. “[W]ith those resources, which would take years to develop, you would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels,” he said. On June 24 he said domestic drilling would not offer immediate relief but would have “psychological impact.” On July 7, he said, “Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been 30 years in the making, and was caused by the failure of politicians in Washington to think long term about the future of the country.”

Obama’s campaign noted, “As someone who’s been in Washington for 26 years, Sen. McCain is one of those politicians, and he’s consistently opposed investments in renewable energy that would reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Now he’s proposing nearly $4 billion in tax breaks for the oil companies and Washington gimmicks that he admits will only provide ‘psychological relief’ to consumers. Barack Obama has fought for energy independence in the Senate and has a plan to invest $150 billion in renewable sources of energy that will create five million new jobs and provide struggling families with an immediate energy rebate and a $1,000 middle-class tax cut.”

Oil prices are up in large part because of the Bush administration’s tax and trade policies and the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush’s borrow-and-spend policies have driven the national debt to a record $9.5 trillion and undermined the dollar, which has lost 60% of its value against the euro since he took office in January 2001. Average price of gas in the US was then $1.52. On the eve of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, gas cost $1.72. The war and insurgency has cut oil production in Iraq while the threat of war and economic sanctions has limited Iran’s oil production, and that has an impact on the world market. But there is no shortage of gas, as long as you can pay for it.

The market is speaking, folks, and it has figured out you’ll pay $4 a gallon, so don’t expect that price to come down appreciably just because a new oilfield comes into play. Those oil companies have gotten used to obscene profits and it turns out that newly affluent Chinese and Indian workers like to drive cars just as much as we do.

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said the argument for more drilling is popular and some Democrats in Congress are considering giving in to the Bush demagoguery, but Al Gore, appearing at the Netroots Nation conference of 2,000 liberal bloggers and activists in Austin on July 19, mocked the GOP argument: “The idea that we can drill our way out of this is just so absurd ... When you’re in a hole stop digging.”

The Nobel laureate called on the nation to switch to 100% renewable electricity generation within 10 years. “It’s an achievable goal,” he said. “We can do it.” He founded the Alliance for Climate Protection in 2006 to ignite public action to solve the climate crisis. The We Can Solve It campaign (wecansolveit.org) aims to mobilize the American people for solutions to climate change.

T. Boone Pickens, an oilfield wildcatter and corporate raider with strong Republican ties, agrees with Gore that a nation with 3% of the world’s oil reserves but consuming 20% of the world’s production cannot drill its way out of dependency on foreign oil. He proposes to develop wind and solar power to replace natural gas-fired generators, but he would use the gas to fuel cars and trucks.

More than a dozen grassroots organizations have joined Gore’s campaign. One of them is Green For All (greenforall.org), a green jobs and environmental justice movement founded by Van Jones, who came to the Netroots conference directly from a tour of the Arctic, where the melting icecap convinced him that “global warming is here” and we need to act quickly.

After talking with Jimmy Carter on the Arctic tour, Jones warned that Democrats must start thinking now about transforming the economy to prevent a repeat of the “stagflation” that undermined Carter in the late 1970s and brought on the Reagan era. Stagflation occurs when rising energy prices inflate costs, which cripples industry, causing a loss of jobs. If that happens, frustrated workers could turn to the Republicans once again.

“We’ve got to get energy prices down,” he said. “But we cannot drill and burn our way out because we’ll bake this planet. We can invent and invest our way out.” He called for conservation and weatherization projects, as well as investment in mass transit, railroads, clean buses and replacing coal and gas generators with wind and solar generators. Not only would they help stop global warming, but they could create millions of jobs.

“We need a World War 2-level mobilization to weatherize buildings and put up solar panels,” Jones said.

There already is a huge green economy. In 2006, renewable energy and efficiency technologies generated 8.5 million jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue and more than $100 billion in industry profits, Green For All reported. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, the major barriers to a more rapid adoption of renewable energy and efficiency in America are insufficient skills and training. Democrats attached to the 2007 Energy Bill the Green Jobs Act to train workers for green-collar jobs. It authorizes $125 million for workforce training programs targeted to veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth and families in poverty. If the money is appropriated, it will train people for jobs such as installing solar panels and weatherization.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of the sponsors of the Green Jobs Act, has another bill that would offer rebates to homeowners, businesses, non-profit organizations and state and local governments that install photovoltaic systems. Experts say 10% of the existing rooftops in the US, when equipped with properly installed and maintained solar systems, could supply 70% of peak US energy demands during summer months. Sanders’ legislation is patterned after successful state programs promoting solar energy in California and New Jersey.

We can accomplish great things in creating green jobs, reversing climate change and maybe even developing a national high-speed railway service that provides an energy-efficient alternative to foundering airlines. But we can’t do much as long as we continue to pour $15 billion a month into the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and hold onto the fantasy that we will be returning to cheap gas for our 12 mpg SUVs. — JMC

Correction: In the 8/1/08 Editorial “Taking Liberties Back,” a section on the Supreme Court’s decision in a damage award against ExxonMobil should have read: “The Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision on June 25, with Exxon stockholder Sam Alito sitting this one out, further cut the punitive damages, from $2.5 billion—which Exxon earns in net profits every three weeks—to $507.5 million.”

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2008

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