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WashPost, yet again: some true items spun into truthiness

February 26th, 2010 · No Comments

The Washington Post asked the other day “what’s going on” that people are confused about climate and energy issues. Well, today’s The Washington Post provided yet another example, in a distressingly long list of examples, as to why that confusion.

Entitled The Green Jobs Myth, former GE Smart Grid engineer Sunil Sharan argues that (as per the title) promoters of a Green Energy Economy are being deceptive in arguing that clean energy jobs provide a pathway forward to greater prosperity, increased competitiveness, improve security, lower pollution levels, and lowering the unemployment rates (quickly). Sharan would likely agree with those first four “wins” but argues that the fifth won’t occur.

Let’s consider just one clean-energy sector, the smart grid, for its job-creation potential.

Here is where Sharan takes a misstep into misleading rather than informing. He has chosen to stove-pipe into a very narrow space. It is Sharan’s expertise area and let’s grant him the expertise. And, we can simply (at no cost to the discussion) assume that he correctly discusses the specific item / arena within the article: about how, within this arena, execution of a more efficient and more automated electrical grid could lead to lower employment in the specific domain of meter reading. Yes, “smart” meters that can be read remotely, via a computer linkup, will lead to lowered employment in having meter readers trudging through our yards to get to the meters. Yes, a transition to a clean energy economy will lead to some job losses … even as it creates new jobs and new opportunities.

Even within the “smart grid” example, Sharan doesn’t deal (at all) with the likely new opportunities for the creation of smarter appliances and the installation of these systems. He doesn’t discuss the business opportunities in helping government, business, and individual develop integrated ‘smart homes’ to interact with the Smart Grid.

Sharan doesn’t …

Sharan doesn’t give readers any indication as to the complicated system-of-systems that is impacted and relates back to energy.

Sharan doesn’t offer up the potential that there are arenas where clean energy policies would create growth.

Sharan doesn’t provide a truthful discussion.

While we might require fewer meter readers (and lowered pollution from their driving around our neighborhoods), will we need electricians to install smarter homes? Will stores selling appliances see greater business flow (and thus more sales people, installers, etc …) due to people upgrading toward greater energy efficiency? Will there be more people employed insulating homes?

Sharan does, however, remind us of those who warned that that electric trolleys and internal combustion engines would hurt the career prospects of buggy whip salesmen and stable boys who would have less horse manure to collect. Sharan does, however, remind us of those who focused on how email hurts postal revenues. Sharand does remind us of all those doomsayers who fight change, focusing on the reality that change can have costs even while bringing greater benefits. Sharan does … provide us some of that manure for stable boys to clean up.

Our energy “system” is incredibly complex. A stove-piped discussion, which fails to link into the complexity, has a high potential for misinforming. And, that is what Sharan’s oped does. While providing likely correct information about the specific career field of electrical meter reading, that true information fosters truthiness about the opportunities for explosive growth and win-win-win-win-win-win space with serious promotion of clean energy jobs.

UPDATE: The always thoughtful Natasha Chart, in The Dirty Jobs Myth, has this concluding thought to her dissection of Sharan’s fallacial piece:

In the end, the biggest myth Sharan perpetuates is that the high employment path is the do-nothing option, in which we now consider it good news when the economy loses jobs more slowly.

Rather, the path to more jobs is in creating new industries that will help us avoid the limits and harms of fossil fuels. Which should be obvious, because creating new industries is the way the US economy has gained most of its jobs before. Using innuendo to steer the country away from one of the most promising of new global industries is a grave disservice.

Additional material:

  • Jim White at the Seminal: Washington Post Op-Ed Skews Math to Smear Green Jobs
  • Note: Sharan, by the way, was a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress (at least as recently as last week — this is uncertain since he doesn’t show up in the CAP staff / experts list as of my checking on him today). CAP, of course, one of the most important voices fostering a robust discussion of how smart energy policy, notably clean energy, can spark significant employment.  What is distressing about this is not that Sharan disagreed with his employer or colleagues but that it looks like he didn’t even bother to read and certainly didn’t comprehend their work.  The ‘true’ portion of Sharan’s OPED could easily have incorporated within CAP work, providing an excellent example of ‘losers’ within a system of winners/losers which, if done correctly, will balance out heavily to the winners.  Sadly, Sharan’s OPED’s truthiness doesn’t show any of the truthfulness of the CAP work on clean energy opportunities.

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    Tags: clean energy jobs · truthiness · Washington Post