Vocal skeptics were out in force from the moment California’s Air Resources Board released the newest version of its plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions by15 percent before 2020.
“This plan closes California to business,” said Steve Frank, former president of the California Republican Assembly and a longtime doubter of global warming, also often referred to as “climate change.” “Costs and regulations would make this a non-profit state – operate here and the state takes your profit. Freedom was nice, while we had it.”
If Frank’s rhetoric sounds a little exaggerated, it is.
For one thing, at the same time Frank and fellow skeptics were griping, some business interests were calling the state’s plan, still being fine-tuned, a job producer that might create hundreds of thousands of new positions here for highly skilled workers.
It also could produce big profits for companies that clean up their operations beyond the minimum requirements. That’s because under a so-called “cap-and-trade” system – details not yet released – companies that put less carbon monoxide and other warming emissions than permitted into the air could sell off their surplus cleanliness to other firms with emissions above the maximum pollution levels. Those maximum levels would be reduced gradually each year, so that net pollution should always be coming down.
One tricky item not yet fully resolved will be to prevent operations that have never polluted much from getting rich by selling pollution credits that don’t actually produce any net cleanup.
At the same time, enthusiasts insist, jobs will be created in solar and wind energy, other renewable energy projects, and numerous innovations designed to make homes and buildings run more efficiently, from energy-saving appliances to new and better insulation.
“This is the breakout growth sector of the next generation,” said David Roland-Holst, a UC Berkeley agriculture professor and author of a study funded by Next 10, a nonprofit organization promoting “green” business.
Roland-Holst didn’t mention it, but today’s scene in some ways resembles the recession of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when California lost tens of thousands of aerospace jobs as Douglas Aircraft and other companies were bought up by out-of-state defense contractors, only to see those jobs replaced – and much more – within a few years by hundreds of thousands of jobs in the high technology sector.
Today’s recession sees many construction and related jobs disappearing because home prices have dropped and even property owners unaffected by the ongoing financial crisis are delaying remodels, new carpeting, and appliances and other upgrades to their houses and condominiums.
But housing demand in this state and the consumer confidence that usually accompanies it must resume sometime fairly soon, if only because population continues to increase, even if the increase is slower than in some past boom times. Much of the increase is due to immigration, and if they’re anything like those who arrived before them, today’s newcomers will only live in crowded conditions for a limited time before they begin trying to get into “starter” homes of their own. If history means anything, that will restart the chain reaction creating fresh demand on each rung of the housing price ladder.
The new homes to come will contain more efficient heaters and air conditioners, more solar electricity panels, more efficient water heaters, and myriad other new devices to help meet the standards being set by the Air Resources Board under terms of the 2006 law known as AB32.
So unlike those who lived through the recession, today’s laid-off workers at least have some idea what their new jobs might be and which kinds of skills they might need to be successful.
The Next 10 report predicts that the greening push will produce at least 400,000 new jobs in the next decade, boosting the state’s economy by as much as $76 billion.
Naysayers like Frank, of course, don’t believe this. The California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the state Chamber of Commerce insist the coming changes will drive business away rather than act as an economic stimulus plan, as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called it in one of his rare disagreements with business groups that fund most of his political operations.
Schwarzenegger has been wrong about a lot of things, from his tactics in budget negotiations to his fund-raising methods, but he’s probably correct this time.
Every California recession of the last century has been followed by an economic boom, with new industries taking the place of those that disappeared or were reduced. This time, there’s at least a degree of certainty about where some of those new jobs will come.