President Obama’s Green Economy

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From the earliest days of the most recent presidential election, President Obama made it clear that one of his highest priorities if elected would be addressing climate change, energy consumption and the economy.  It seems that within the first several months of taking office, President Obama has remained dedicated to those priorities.  More recently, he maintains that he has found a single solution that will address all three problems: the development of a “green economy.” 

The green economy, according to the Administration, will “invest in alternative and renewable energy, end our addiction to foreign oil, address the global climate crisis and create millions [five million, to be exact] of new jobs.”  President Obama has stated his intention to invest $150 billion over the next ten years in efforts meant to encourage private efforts to establish and use clean energy.  Through this investment, the President expects to not only create jobs (developing, installing, and maintaining new green technologies) but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 through the use of clean and renewable energy sources.  Breaking the nation’s addiction to foreign oil is an obvious underpinning of the Obama plan. 

While Obama was still working to secure the votes needed to secure his place in the White House, he continuously espoused his intention to execute the plan described above.  For example, during the second Presidential debates in October 2008, Obama said, “…if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily.”  Interestingly, as Obama made these promises to the American people in hopes of winning the presidency, other world leaders were taking similar efforts.  A November 2008 article in Britain’s The Independent, describes the efforts of British Ministers to increase environmentally friendly investments as a central part of their economic rescue plan.  Similarly, according to the article, Australian officials were discussing execution of a plan that would result in a 3,000 percent growth in green jobs over the next several decades.  Clearly the idea of a green economy benefitting not only citizens who will work within it but also the environment is gaining momentum.

There are significant implications that must be considered, however.  Several economists and conservative politicians and analysts have challenged the most fundamental element of the proposal, arguing that government initiatives to create jobs to bolster a weak economy have historically failed.  Rich Lowry argues in a recent article in the National Review that there are “currently 1.8 million jobs in the economy related to oil and gas.  Why layer more than double – if the Obama goal can be taken seriously – that number of ‘green’ jobs on top of already existing energy jobs?  Even if all the traditional energy jobs disappear, we will have succeeded only in employing more people in energy than otherwise necessary.” 

In a November 2008 article, Kenneth Green, writing for the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Obama’s plan to create jobs through a green economic revolution to French economist Frederic Bastiat’s 1850 “broken window” fallacy.  Bastiat’s theory refutes the idea that it is wise for government to try to create jobs and not possible to stimulate a dwindling economy through such means.  The explanation of the theory goes something like this:  A kid throws a rock and breaks a shopkeepers’ window.  Most people feel bad for the shopkeeper but eventually decide that broken windows are not such a bad thing because it creates work for the glassmaker who can then benefit from having work and potentially even creating another job by hiring an assistant.  Bastiat’s 1850 argument contends that the kid breaking windows is not performing a public service by creating work for the glassmaker; the money that the shopkeeper paid the glassmaker to replace the windows would have been better spent investing in his own shop and potentially, in the process, creating jobs himself.  According to Green, “Obama’s ‘green jobs’ plan would indeed create jobs, but it would do so by killing other jobs” (including jobs in the coal, gas, nuclear, and automobile industries which currently “directly employ more than 1 million people.”) 

The green economy will have a significant impact on higher education regardless of whether the effort ultimately benefits the larger economic picture.  President Obama’s so far unwavering dedication to the green economy should be a call to arms for those in higher education who are responsible for preparing the nation’s workforce.  The current workforce is inadequately prepared for Obama’s green economy jobs, a realization of many colleges and universities as they attempt to prepare their students for a competitive entrance into the job market.

The Department of Education has realized this academic shortcoming and has promised to hold a Sustainability Summit no later than September 2010.  The Energy Independence and Security Act which is not yet funded would provide $500 million in loans and $250 million in grants for the establishment of green technologies; half those funds would go to institutions of higher education.  The Obama Stimulus Package finally settled in February of this year will allot between $50 billion and $75 billion to higher education with an additional $16 billion going to federal agencies for research grants and facilities over 2 years.

A year or two prior to the 2008 election, a group of concerned college presidents formed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).  The premise of the ACUPCC is that higher education is in a unique position to address the pending climate crisis.  The purpose of the commitment is to call attention to the issue of global warming and signatories pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions on their campuses.  Some notable improvements have been made at many campuses as a result of participation in this initiative.  Only 637 of the approximately 4,000 institutions of higher learning have signed the agreement to date, but President Obama’s focus on the “green economy” may stimulate more colleges to participate.

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  In today’s evolving world, it is imperative that higher education keep up with changing trends in the marketplace.  With President Obama’s initiative to create “green” jobs, higher education must accept and respect that and make efforts to create curricula and initiatives that cultivate the educational experience necessary to compete in the new green economy.

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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