I've written here about why conventional "green jobs" are a problematic concept
. When the government tries to cultivate a given industry to create jobs, there are many potential stumbling blocks. The industries may not be labor-intensive. The government may back the wrong industries or the wrong technologies. The parts that are labor intensive may move overseas. They may require extensive training, and when the work is completed, that training may be useless.
, I suggested
a few nontraditional paths to green jobs:
1. We could upgrade the nation's rail infrastructure with electrified rail
replacing diesel engines and with the addition of double-track
lines to minimize traffic congestion that can slow trains to an average of 2mph on some routes.
2. We could weatherize
every home in America.
3. We could fully fund fuels management
on all federal lands:
4. We could construct a backbone of HVDC lines.
These measures address the problems with traditional "green jobs" plans by striving for the following:
1. They focus on national infrastructure, a traditional "public good," rather than seeking to identify and promote particular companies or industries.
2. In themselves (without assuming a cascading effect of private-sector adoption) they significantly mitigate our national contribution to global warming.
3. They involve significant amounts of unskilled or semi-skilled labor (cutting brush, laying rail, weatherizing homes).
4. Much of the work generated necessarily comes from workers in the United States.
5. They are large, nationwide projects (large enough to stimulate employment, large enough to make a real difference to the climate.)
With those principles in mind, here are four other key projects with the potential to create real green jobs:
1. Rapid transit for the hundred largest cities in America.
Subways and elevated rails work. Annual ridership of the New York subway is 1.6 billion
. Most of the ten largest cities in America have them. Radically expanding electrified mass transit not only gets people out of their cars, it gets people too poor to afford cars mobility to get out to work (or their doctor's appointments, or to care care, or to do their shopping).
2. Paint all roofs white
. Part of the problem with traditional approaches to creating "green jobs" is that jobs like working in a solar factory or erecting offshore windmills are highly skilled. Not very many people are qualified to perform them, and those that are are likely already employed. Meanwhile, while every sector of our economy has an unemployment problem, the worst problem is among those with a high school education or less:
So a green jobs plan with teeth should provide jobs to people at the bottom of the educational ladder -- which will also provide a greater dollar-for-dollar stimulus. So how about painting roofs white?
exciting recent research on "negative radiative forcing":
radiative forcing benefits of “cool roof” construction in California:
quantifying the climate impacts of building albedo modification –
VanCuren (2011) “Exploiting surface albedo change has been proposed
as a form of geoengineering to reduce the heating effect of
anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases (GHGs). Recent modeling
experiments have projected significant negative radiative forcing from
large-scale implementation of albedo reduction technologies (“cool”
roofs and pavements). This paper complements such model studies with
measurement-based calculations of the direct radiation balance impacts
of replacement of conventional roofing with “cool” roof materials in
California. This analysis uses, as a case study, the required changes to
commercial buildings embodied in California’s building energy
efficiency regulations, representing a total of 4300 ha of roof area
distributed over 16 climate zones. The estimated statewide mean
radiative forcing per 0.01 increase in albedo (here labeled RF01) is
−1.38 W/m2. The resulting unit-roof-area mean annual radiative forcing impact of this regulation is −44.2 W/m2. This forcing is computed to counteract the positive radiative forcing of ambient atmospheric CO2
at a rate of about 41 kg for each square meter of roof. Aggregated over
the 4300 ha of cool roof estimated built in the first decade after
adoption of the State regulation, this is comparable to removing about
1.76 million metric tons (MMT) of CO2 from the atmosphere.
The point radiation data used in this study also provide perspective on
the spatial variability of cool roof radiative forcing in California,
with individual climate zone effectiveness ranging from −37 to −59 W/m2
of roof. These “bottom-up” calculations validate the estimates reported
for published “top down” modeling, highlight the large spatial
diversity of the effects of albedo change within even a limited
geographical area, and offer a potential methodology for regulatory
agencies to account for the climate effects of “cool” roofing in
addition to its well-known energy efficiency benefits.” Richard VanCuren, Climatic Change, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0250-2.
If a single square meter of roof counteracts 41kg of CO2, then painting 50 square meters of roof is the equivalent (in warming terms) of removing one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere. Depending on what kind of a carbon price you favor, this could be worth $50-$300. And you don't need a lot of education to slap on white paint.
3. Upgrade interstate highways with an automated highway system.
There are roughly 50,000 miles of interstate highway (accounting for a third of all road travel) -- upgrading them would be a massive project that would be undertaken in stages. It would be expensive, but the payoff would be huge (not unlikely building the roads in the first place). Intelligent highways would move people faster, with greater fuel efficiency and fewer accidents.
The systems that have been road-tested (so to speak) rely on sensors planted meter-by-meter in the highway. This would be labor-intensive, but doubly rewarding; trips on intelligent highways would burn far less gas, and would be far less likely to get bogged down in traffic, where 4.8 billion hours a year are wasted. For knowledge workers, self-driving cars would also make driving time more productive -- makeup will be applied more evenly; kids can be yelled at more effectively! -- without the risk that the distractions will lead to lethal accidents.
4. Implement no-till agriculture
in American fields. No-till agriculture in appropriate soils and with appropriate crops
has been found to sequester carbon, reduce NO2 emissions, reduce soil erosion, and conserve water, all at a reasonable cost. To encourage this, we can provide carbon sequestration credits, free training in no-till methods.
This promotes employment in custom weeding, herbicide application, as well as sequestering carbon
. Less fuel is burned when tilling is omitted.
Substituting employment costs (jobs) for diesel fuel costs -- and sequester carbon in the process. Sounds like a green job to me.