Green jobs are suddenly in the news. Well any jobs are in the news, especially ones that aren’t being lost. The opposition parties in Canada got all indignant when President Obama suggested that if the US Government is buying steel for bridges it should buy American steel first. Unless I’m confused the reason the US Government is spending the money is to get the US economy going again and to try and put some Americans back to work. So why shouldn’t the US government want US steel in US bridges? I understand this concern about protectionism during depressions, but I haven’t heard that they’re suggesting closing the borders to all foreign trade, they’re just saying we’d rather that American workers have jobs instead of being on unemployment benefits. The US Government is paying for it either way, at least if the worker was making steel, the US ends up with improved infrastructure out of the deal.
When Obama was in Ottawa he and Prime Minister Harper talked a lot about things like climate change and carbon sequestration. The Alberta Government, which is terrified of the Americans bailing on tar sands oil because the tar sands create three times the amount of CO2 as traditional oil along with a litany of other environmental problems, chimed in with their own $2 billion for research on carbon sequestration. Yup, everyone keeps talking about it but no one is actually doing it. There is one oil field in Alberta that has a pipeline from a nearby power plant that shoots the carbon dioxide in to push out more oil, and every time you see a news item about carbon sequestration, this is the plant you see. They don’t mention the new power plant in Saskatchewan that was going to sequester its carbon but bailed at the last minute saying it couldn’t afford to.
So I’m not sure how governments are going to create “green jobs” if they don’t have some mechanism to direct their citizens to buy domestic products specifically. A case in point is my new solar domestic hot water system (SDHW). I had an Eco-Energy Audit done so I will get $500 back from the Government of Canada and $500 from the Province of Ontario. Neither specified where the system was made, just that it was a recognized SDHW unit. Many people go with vacuum tubes rather than flat plate collectors. Most of these vacuum tube systems are made in Germany or China.
In my research I was happy with the performance of a flat plate collector and as a bonus, the one I choose was made domestically. In fact the Enerworks system is based on research that was done at Queen’s University in Kingston Ontario, near where I live. I attend meetings of a group called SWITCH, the Alternative Energy Cluster in Kingston and Steve Harrison, the director of the Queen’s Solar Lab that developed the product, sometimes attends these meetings. I like owning a system developed by someone I know.
To commercialize the product the Government of Canada gave technology seed money (i.e. my tax money) under their IRAP program to Enerworks. Enerworks then brought the product to market and manufacturers them in London, Ontario. While I would rather have had Enerworks make them in Kingston, at least they’re made in Ontario. I’ve been asked to give the keynote address at the Quinte Sustainability Symposium in March, so I decided to do some more research on Enerworks and green jobs.
They graciously provided me with some profiles of several employees who were laid off from the auto sector and who now work building solar thermal systems. They’ve gone from making a product (cars) that trash the planet to one that helps the planet. How cool is that? One of the workers is so pumped about his new job he rides his bike to work to reduce his carbon footprint. I’m really glad the money I spent went to create jobs for my neighbours. I have nothing against workers in other countries, but if I can buy a comparable product made locally, why wouldn’t I? And if the government is offsetting part of my purchase price don’t I have an obligation to spend the money in my own country? It’s my tax dollars they’re just giving me back.
I have read a lot about the Great Depression and one of the standard clichés is that it was deepened and prolonged by countries becoming protectionist to save what jobs they could at home. Our climate is in peril. Shipping goods around the planet may provide consumers with the lowest possible cost goods, but it’s trashing our planet. We can’t afford to keep doing this. We have to return to local trade. We have to relocalize. And if the climate isn’t reason enough the gradual reduction in the supply of oil now that we’ve hit peak is going to force us to. I’m ready. I want to buy locally produced goods. If I’m going to spend money I want to put my neighbors to work. If my government is going to spend money on green projects and wants to give preference to companies in my country I support that. It’s my money they’re spending. Spending in other countries doesn’t help me. It doesn’t mean more money being contributed to government entitlements like health care and old age benefits that I may use someday. Nope, call it protectionism if you want, but my hot water comes from a device that my neighbors made and they’re proud of it and so am I.