Friday, April 23, 2010

And we've plenty to choose from...

It seems more often than not, our choices on policy are ugly, uglier, and OMG. This menu might be shaping the outcome of climate change legislation even while many still think the idea of AGW is dead.

Major players from business are gingerly climbing aboard climate change legislation as the least of the evils.
That's pretty much been the plan all along: use the threat of EPA action to gain support from Republicans and the business community. It seems to be working on the business community, so the only question left is whether it will work on Republicans. Normally I'd say no, but the threat of EPA action is quite real and might prompt the GOP's business wing to put some serious pressure on them to get this bill passed. That will mean standing up to the "carbon taxes are tyranny" crowd in the tea party movement, but in the past the business wing of the party has usually won these kinds of showdowns. It's still not clear if there's enough time on the congressional calendar to pass a climate bill this year, but at least the odds are now a little better. [More]
My view is this boat has already sailed for businesses who cannot afford to look only to next quarter's results. Too many industries have begun investing too much to handle possible climate change mitigation efforts by greening up for this to reverse itself easily.

But it may not be clear how that will play out for farmers, since perversely enough, our "green" jobs may be the most tenuous.

There is no more fashionable solution to the current global recession than "green jobs." President Obama, Britain's Gordon Brown, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and China's Hu Jintao are all eagerly promoting clean-technology industries, like wind and solar power, or recycling saw grass as fuel. It sounds like the ultimate win-win deal: create jobs, cut down on energy dependence, and save the planet from global warming, all in one stimulus plan. Ever since the recession began, governments, environmental groups, and even labor unions have been spinning out reports on just how many jobs might be created by these new industries—estimates that range from tens of thousands to millions.
Those kinds of predictions, however, may be overoptimistic. As a new study from McKinsey points out, the clean-energy industry doesn't have much in common with old, labor-intensive manufacturing industries like steel and cars. A more accurate comparison would be to the semiconductor industry, which was also expected to create a boom in high-tech jobs but today employs mainly robots. Green-tech workers—people who do things like design and build wind turbines or solar panels—now make up only 0.6 percent of the American workforce. McKinsey figures that clean energy won't command much more of the total job market in the years ahead. "The bottom line is that these 'clean' industries are too small to create the millions of jobs that are needed right away," says James Manyika, a director at the McKinsey Global Institute.
On the other hand, a booming green sector could fuel job growth in other industries. Here, too, the story of the computer chip is instructive. Today the big chip makers like Intel employ only 0.4 percent of the U.S. workforce, down from a peak of 0.6 percent in 2000. But indirectly they helped create millions of jobs by making other industries more efficient: throughout the 1990s, new technologies based on advanced semiconductors helped firms achieve massive gains in labor productivity and efficiency. Companies in retail, manufacturing, and many other areas got faster and stronger.
McKinsey and others say that the same process could play out today if governments focused less on building a "green economy"—by which they really mean a clean-energy industry—and more on greening every part of the existing economy. U.S. efforts to promote corn-based ethanol, and giant German subsidies for the solar industry, for instance, are incredibly counter-productive. In both cases the state is creating bloated, inefficient sectors, with jobs that are not likely to last. [More]
This issue will, like so many this century require exhaustive attention and learning to prepare our farms to cope with sudden economic and regulatory outcomes.

I'm tired already.

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