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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 13, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Modest but promising: Trying to get our arms around the ‘green economy’

What, exactly, is “the green economy”? The Brookings Institution takes a swipe at defining it and ranking metro areas in green-job creation since 2003 in a new report. And for all Seattle’s aspirations, we come off so-so: 13th in “clean jobs” created (31,340) out of the 100 largest metros, but near our metro population size ranking overall.

Those jobs represent 1.8 percent of all employment in the region to rank it 46th. Seattle ranked 69th among metros in the export value of those clean jobs. Overall jobs numbers pretty much track population size, thus New York, LA and Chicago are the top three. Portland ranks 16th.

Admittedly, this is an attempt to pin down a murky segment, one prone to “green wash” (industry propaganda) and ambiguity. As Brookings measures it, this “clean economy” economy employs 2.7 million nationally. The fields include wastewater, mass transit, “solar photovoltaic, wind, fuel cell, smart grid, biofuel, and battery industries.” Many of these are being born. And looking back to 2003 means dealing with the fallout of the Great Recession and a weak jobs decade even before that.

No question the green economy is full of promise for Seattle, especially as it leverages our existing strengths. As to the national numbers, one other caveat: Hardly any green industry exists without fossil-fuel “inputs.” Often the fossil fuel energy required to produce a “clean energy” system is greater than the “clean energy” it will produce. Also, if Atlanta ranks 7th in jobs, how does that balance against its horrific environmental externalities, such as sprawl, energy and water consumption and lack of transit outside the city proper?

Today’s Econ Haiku:

It’s not debt, it’s jobs

Washington’s priorities

Dip? Have a double

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