Written by Rob Pickett

May 9, 2016

Back when I barely made it through Paul Samuelson’s Econ 101-102 class at CU-Boulder, I realized that I would not make a career in economics. Since my college days, I’ve learned more about economic impacts. I’ve watched technology advance in Superman terms. And I think of a former office-mate whose favorite saying was “The only constant in the world is change.” Ok, so where am I going with this?

Infrastructure GradesOne day last week, I was watching “Real Time with Bill Maher”[1]. Most of the conversation was entertaining but not enlightening. Then Rob Reiner said something to the effect of, “Where are the jobs? They are in green and infrastructure. What are gone? Manufacturing jobs that are not coming back.”

A light went off in my head. Ding!

Have you seen America’s Infrastructure Report Card[2]? America has a GPA of D+ for the dismal quality of our roads, levees, drinking water, and more. The only bright spot is in solid waste – does this mean that we are doing a better job of recycling?

The question is not if jobs exist here, but how to manage them.  Funding is a problem, but not the only one. In many cases, the technology must be updated. With photovoltaic solar systems evolving, it would seem that the D+ rating from 2013 may now be a C.

What about recycling nuclear waste?[3] How would that help the Energy & Hazardous Waste grades?

How can wave technology generate power off shore?[4],[5] Denmark “today boasts a world-leading industry with hundreds of companies covering every aspect of the supply chain, ranging from wind turbine producers, developers of offshore wind farms to special vessels for offshore installation, transport, maintenance and service and manufacturers of components and parts for the turbine.”[6]

When I hear about “green” job opportunities, I think about building science, power generation, and environmental studies.[7] [8]   Then there was the Bureau of Labor Statistics[9] that covered Green Goods and Services (GGS). Unfortunately in 2013, President Obama ordered into effect the across-the-board spending cuts as required by the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act, as amended. Under the order, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) had to cut its current budget by more than $30 million, about 5 percent of the current 2013 appropriation In seven months.

In order to achieve these savings and protect core programs, the BLS eliminated two programs and all “measuring green jobs” products. These products include: data on employment by industry and occupation for businesses that produce green goods and services; data on the occupations and wages of jobs related to green technologies and practices; and green career information publications.”

Was this bad news? But “green” had grown out of the fad mode and matured in the U.S. main stream, so it was one budget cut that may have made sense.

Costs related to labor and regulation are accused as primary causes for U.S. jobs shifting overseas. The shift included the production of steel, and some industrialization was permitted to grow without regulation. But now world climate agreements are targeting those countries who absorbed transfers in industry. When one compares the top five steel producers in the world — the People’s Republic of China (nearly 50%), the European Union (just over 10%), Japan (6.6%), the U.S. (5.3%), and India (5.2%) — a correlation can be drawn to those countries contributing the greatest to global greenhouse gas emissions.[10]

The European Union is working on new approaches to finding a balance[11] between industrialization and environmental health. An upcoming conference in Bulgaria[12] will focus on “Forestry: Bridge to the Future”. Their website states, “…recent studies have shown that due to many circumstances such as climate change, social and economic factors, Forestry is becoming very important for the environment and human. As more scientific information about global processes accumulates, climate change is emerging as perhaps the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century.”

Figure 1 Global Greenhouse Gass Emissions copy

Figure 1 Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions … by Gas, by Economic Sector, by Country

One of the “greenest”, most sustainable, environmentally friendly industry has been a focus of my career. Many good career opportunities are posted online[13] related to engineered wood products, solid wood products, biomass and more. Opportunities begin in the woods, nurturing the lifeforce of the industry – renewable harvesting. Renewable is used in this sense to describe the use of wood now and for future generations. The string of job opportunities runs through the entire supply chain to builders – home builders/remodelers, furniture makers, and others. Global Forest Watch[14] reports that 827,000 people are directly employed by the forestry sector (2011 FAO data).

It seems that the same forces that drove innovation in alternative energy and Internet communications can continue to drive new job opportunities in the U.S. and world wide. Sometimes looking to the industries of the past to “make America great again” isn’t the best investment. How many “Ds” on the report card can become “Bs”?

Global Forest Watch copy



[1] Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, telecast 4/29/2016

[2] http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

[3] https://www.ted.com/talks/taylor_wilson_my_radical_plan_for_small_nuclear_fission_reactors?language=en

[4] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2014/02/140220-five-striking-wave-and-tidal-energy-concepts/

[5] http://wavestarenergy.com/vision

[6] http://denmark.dk/en/green-living/wind-energy/

[7] http://www.greenjobs.net/

[8] http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/

[9] http://www.bls.gov/ggs/home.htm

[10] https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html

[11] http://ec.europa.eu/eip/agriculture/en

[12] http://conf2015.forestry-ideas.info/index.php

[13] http://www.topwoodjobs.com

[14] www.globalforestwatch.org