Don't Be Blue Over Green
In the spirit of the Presidential debates, let’s fact check David Brooks’ column from today’s New York Times. The thrust of the piece, “A Sad Green Story,” is that a once promising clean energy industry has suffered irreversible damage at the hands of the government. While Brooks is completely correct that government partisanship has hurt the industry, his other claims about government investments in clean tech are misleading.
Brooks says, “he who lives by the subsidy dies by the subsidy,” referring to well-known failures like Solyndra and A123 (which isn’t quite the “spectacular loser” that Brooks calls it, considering that another company, Johnson Controls, will continue to run A123’s two Michigan factories). First of all, the record for government’s success rate investing in clean tech is actually very good. As this excellent piece from Ezra Klein points out, only three of the 26 clean energy projects that the government backed with loans have led to bankruptcy filings.
Second, on the point of subsidies, the clean energy industry is not nearly so heavily subsidized as the fossil fuel industry. As we’ve pointed out before, fossil fuels received $72 billion in subsidies between 2002 and 2008. How much did renewables receive? Only $29 billion, and about half of that went to corn-based ethanol, not to solar or wind. Fossil fuels do not seem to be dying by the subsidy.
Furthermore, Brooks’ pessimism about the clean energy industry is unjustified. The Center for the Next Generation released a report today, in collaboration with the Center for American Progress, that details, region by region, the vast potential for developing clean energy in the U.S. Here are some facts from the report, entitled “Regional Energy, National Solutions”:
- Developing just 54 gigawatts of offshore wind in Atlantic waters would generate $200 billion in economic activity and create 43,000 permanent, well-paid technical jobs, in addition to displacing the annual output of 52 coal-fired power plants.
- Retooling the auto industry to build the next generation of vehicles has proved to be one of the most effective elements of a national recovery, adding more than 230,000 direct jobs in manufacturing and auto sales since the low point of the recession in mid-2009. That adds up to 14 percent growth, far outpacing the economy as a whole.
- The solar industry in California has experienced significant growth over the past 15 years. Since 1995, the number of solar businesses grew by 171 percent, and total employment jumped by 166 percent. As a point of comparison, the total number of California businesses has grown by 70 percent, and employment has increased by 12 percent.
At one point today, Brooks’ article ranked number 9 on the New York Times’ “Most emailed” list; we just hope that people are taking it with a grain of salt.
For more push-back on Brooks, check out:
“David Brooks is No Green Truth Vigilante” from MediaMatters
“The sad history of climate policy, according to David Brooks” from the Wonkblog
“Hot Air from David Brooks on Clean Energy and Global Warming” from the Center for Economic and Policy Research