"We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries," President Obama said this week in his second inaugural address. "We must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God."
It's one thing to say we have to throw a lot of money at solving global warming to save the planet. It's quite another to pretend that there is a "green economy" just waiting to happen, filled with hundreds of thousands or even millions of good jobs, as Obama has often promised.
The new "green energy economy" that Obama has repeatedly spoken of -- a future of lower ocean levels in which Americans work at good-paying jobs manufacturing windmills and solar panels -- has always been among the most optimistic features of his vision for America. But given that it is an economically impossible pipe dream, it is also one of the biggest flops of his presidency. When Obama pledged $150 billion over 10 years to the cause of creating his "clean energy economy," he promised 5 million green jobs over 10 years. He'd better get moving, because as Bloomberg Businessweek's Ira Boudway noted late last year, only about 30,000 jobs have been created so far by the Department of Energy's 4,000 or so green energy projects.
From the stimulus package, American taxpayers got a multibillion-dollar clean energy subsidy program that propped up almost a dozen nearly or already bankrupt firms, including most famously Solyndra, which sucked up $535 million in taxpayer alone. Smaller but nearly as inefficient was the $400 million that the stimulus spent on a green-jobs training program. The program placed less than one-third of its enrollees in new "green" jobs, and the "green" jobs they did get came an average annual salary of less than $26,000 per year and frequently lasted less than six months.
Wind and solar power have gone from producing 1.4 percent of the nation's power to 2.9 percent during Obama's first four years in office. But even this progress, driven by expensive state and local government mandates and built with large subsidies and higher electricity rates for customers, comes with high opportunity costs and few permanent net jobs. Moreover, a handful of jobs in the utility industry does not a "green economy" make. If you're expecting a windmill factory to pop up in your town and hire you, don't hold your breath.
Obama devoted more words and time in his second inaugural address to climate change than any other issue. But according to Gallup, the environment isn't even among the top 10 issues Americans are worried about today.
The vast majority of Americans identified either "the economy," "the federal budget deficit" or "unemployment" as the "most important problem" facing the country today. In his speech Monday, Obama rejected calls to lower the debt, ignored unemployment and basically assumed the economy was well on the road to recovery. It's not. Economic growth is slowing, and our nation's unemployment rate is stuck at 7.8 percent. A new push by Obama's Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon is exactly what the economy, and America, does not need right now.