opinion | Can Democrats claim that fighting climate change will create jobs?

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For years, liberals have argued that investing in climate change programs could also create modern, high-paying jobs. They dubbed one of their most ambitious plans the Green New Deal, in reference to government investments that helped lift the US economy out of the Great Depression. On the other hand, conservatives insisted that almost anything we do about climate change would decimate the economy and impoverish the country.

Now that Democrats have actually passed a major climate bill — the Inflation Reduction Act, the included $369 billion in climate investments – we’ll find out in a more obvious way if they were right. Because now they can point to a concrete plan that tests the premise in the real world.

In short, if green jobs are created, the Democrats should be able to turn a victory lap. But this begs a question: Can the Democrats conquer populist high ground by arguing that they are emerging as the party of manufacturing jobs — that is, green energy jobs — of the future?

They’re already starting to try. The Biden administration crows over recent good news on the clean energy and industrial policy fronts:

  • first sun announced Tuesday that it will spend $1 billion to build a manufacturing facility in the Southeast and spend another $185 million to expand its operations in Ohio. In a statement, the company expressly referred to the Anti-Inflation Act.
  • Honda and LG announced plans to build a $4.4 billion battery factory somewhere in the United States, probably in Ohio, with construction beginning early next year. They pointed to increased demand for electric vehicles, which the IRA wants to encourage. The non-partisan infrastructure law passed last year also contains incentives for the production of electric batteries.
  • corning announced Tuesday that it will build a fiber-optic cable manufacturing facility in Arizona in anticipation of large public investments from the Infrastructure Act, which earmarked $42 billion for broadband expansion.

The White House explicitly cites such announcements – and this is also about renewable energy – as a sign that the government is committed to creating good working class jobs.

There are signs that in tough Senate races, Democrats are also beginning to lean on the argument that green energy investments will fund the manufacturing jobs of the future.

For example, has Rep. Tim Ryan, who is running against Republican JD Vance for the Ohio Senate blown up Vance’s opposition to subsidizing electric vehicle manufacturing in the state.

“It’s good for manufacturing, good for jobs, good for the environment, good for Ohio,” says Ryan said recentlyDescribing Vance as “absolutely clueless”.

Ryan has touted the Biden plan’s tax incentives to encourage people to buy electric vehicles, arguing that this will lead to more such vehicles being made in Ohio, as well as the manufacture of batteries for them. And Ryan has argued that local solar panel manufacturing jobs represent “the future of Ohio,” while pushing for more funding to train those workers.

It’s not immediately apparent how Republicans can counter this. vance has argued that EV subsidies only benefit rich customers (Ryan counters that working people drive EVs too) and has suggested that if we rely on green jobs, we will weaken vis-à-vis China.

But that feels a lot like trying to put populist lipstick on the old GOP bastard of opposing government spending on job creation because it means “picking winners and losers.” It feels trapped in old GOP ideologies, which is hard to reconcile with Vance-style populist claims of being more pro-working class than the GOP has traditionally been.

Meanwhile, Mandela Barnes, the Democrat challenging GOP Senator Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, has offered a twist on that approach. barnes told how the emission standards of the 1970 Clean Air Act increased demand for catalytic converters for cars, and notes that his own father worked in a plant assembling them.

Barnes connects this with the idea that investing in current green technologies can also create jobs. The goal is to “move to 100 percent renewable energy,” says Barnes sayswill create “good paying jobs” in “clean energy generation”.

And Barnes Production plan requires further investments in green energy jobs to compete with China’s green energy industry, calling these US jobs “the manufacturing of tomorrow.”

With the caveat that people rarely vote to confirm approval of a policy passed by the president’s party, one has to hope that this will change some of the old paradigms. Climate activists and Democrats have long fought the perception of an inevitable zero-sum game in which any action to mitigate climate change would inevitably require economic sacrifices.

But as Professor Jesse Jenkins of Princeton University has argued, a compelling account of the “economic opportunity of the energy transition” could “fundamentally transform climate policy.” Who knows, maybe it will work.

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