A green jobs generator

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We are the authors of an often-cited study about the economic impact of California’s landmark global warming law, AB 32. The law was passed in 2006 to control the state’s greenhouse gas emissions; now some in Sacramento want to see it shelved. And to bolster their case they are misrepresenting our research — despite the facts and over our objections.

Our research, “Addressing the Employment Impacts of AB 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act,” which was released in February 2009, has been used by groups like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., AB 32 Implementation Group and the California Jobs Initiative as part of their campaign to stop the implementation of AB 32. They claim that our study says AB 32 will “threaten” more than 3 million jobs in California, but the report says no such thing. In fact, it shows that AB 32 will generate enormous opportunities for California by fostering leading-edge technologies, processes and products that can be exported to the rest of the world.

All the most rigorous research done so far on AB 32’s economic impact agrees that the law will have a small but positive impact on the state’s jobs. The main reason is that California households will save money by using products that are more energy efficient — such as appliances that use less electricity and cars that use less gasoline — and they will be able to spend that savings on other goods and services, which will create jobs. In addition, generating energy savings by doing things like retrofitting buildings produces more domestic jobs than generating fossil fuel energy.


So where did the anti-AB 32 groups come up with their 3 million “threatened” jobs? In our study, we do talk about 3 million jobs. It is the estimated number of jobs in industries that, when the study was done, seemed likely to be affected by AB 32 through 2020. And what does “affected” mean? Our research didn’t find that any of these jobs disappeared, but it did show that some industries would grow faster and some slower, resulting in that small net gain in jobs overall.

But job gain or loss is not the only takeaway from our research. What we emphasized — and what has received no attention from the groups using the report for their own political ends — is that AB3 2 will change many jobs and require retraining for workers. For example, when California switches to cleaner trucks, it won’t so much affect the number of trucking jobs, but it will certainly require new skills in truck manufacturing, truck repair and maintenance. To address this, we recommend that the state invest in retraining our workforce, not just in retooling our technology.

AB 32’s opponents lost their battle against the bill in the Legislature. Now they are trying to stop or slow down policies meant to address climate change by cherry-picking a number from our research. Along the way, they not only obfuscate the legislation’s projected effect on California jobs, they also ignore the report’s main finding: the pressing need for more green workforce development.

We ask that our study not be used in a way that misconstrues our findings. Californians deserve a conversation on AB 32’s economic impacts that is based on reasoned analysis, not political exploitation. Thus far, the analysis of AB 32 points to economic benefit, not harm.

Carol Zabin is director of research of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. David Graham-Squire is a research associate at the center.