For almost the entire history of the environment movement, its opponents framed the debate as “Environment vs. Jobs.” Now, Robert Borosage optimistically asks if we’ll soon see “a 21st-century Green New Deal” effectively connecting the environment and job growth as the The Apollo Alliance coalition of environmentalists, unions and businesses has long advocated.
There is reason to be optimistic. The false choice between environment and jobs has not entered the presidential race.
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In the second presidential debate, both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain responded to the opening question about getting the economy back on track by citing energy independence. Later in the debate, both argued that we could create millions of green-collar jobs generating clean energy and energy-efficiency.
The two disagree significantly on the degree of public investment needed to achieve the goal. Obama supports investing $15 billion a year for 10 years “to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.” McCain supports some tax incentives and a “$300 million prize” for whoever first develop a battery package that can power “commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars.” (The Apollo Alliance supports a $30 billion a year investment over 10 years.)
But both support the rudimentary principle that government involvement is needed to move us to a clean energy economy, which would be good for the economy.
Does that mean that a Green New Deal is firmly in hand? No; the details of environment and energy policy always spark fierce legislative fights that will require smart and sustained engagement.
But it does mean that conservative attempts to dismiss a Green New Deal as akin to Nazi Germany can be easily marginalized. Because the parameters of the debate have been set.
This is no longer about environment vs. jobs. This is no longer about if our government should get involved in clean energy policy (as it already is with fossil fuel policy and nuclear policy).
The mandate for government action is clear. The remaining debate is how best to direct our government to build a clean energy economy.