The New Green Economy (Part 3): What Is the Role of Education and R&D?

This is part three in a three part series on the “New Green Economy” conference held by the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.. Part one covers a speech by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and part two outlines conversation around the topic of “What does a sustainable economy look like?”

In a session at NCSE, “What is the Role of Science, Technology, and Education in Greening the New Economy?” David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University, moderated a panel including Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University, Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education, Kyung-Ah Park, Vice President, Environmental Markets, Goldman Sachs, and Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ).

David Gergen, Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard University, asked panelists to describe the relationship between green jobs, education, and R&D investment:

Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics, Harvard University: “10 percent unemployment will continue for some time; 4-5 percent unemployment won’t return until 2016. Where are we going to get these jobs? These will be green economy jobs — they have to come from the greener sectors of the economy.

The $150 billion spent on retrofits and energy efficiency yielded some two million new jobs. That’s about a rate of $75,000 per job.”

Martha Kanter, Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Education: “We have to systematically reinvent education. We need to invest in environmental sustainability education. There are now programs to help move students into retrofitting jobs. We have to marry work and education.

We also need climate scientists in large numbers. We have an underprepared society.”

Kyung-Ah Park, Vice President, Environmental Markets, Goldman Sachs: “The green economy will mean a holistic transformation, which include a transformation in many sectors, including energy, automobiles, etc. This will have a profound impact on business.

The financial industry needs policy, market price signals to deploy capital to green economic sectors. Deploying capital is needed to move to a more energy efficient economy.

If cap and trade doesn’t pass the U.S. Congress, we will need standards more than taxes. Green building standards, like those in California, help move the market. Renewable portfolio standards covering energy, fuels will also help generate demand. If cap and trade doesn’t pass, we need a suite of policies to spur increased investment.”

Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University: “We need to define long-term objectives and avoid the partisan vortex on Capitol Hill. What is our goal — carbon neutrality?

We also need to stimulate education reform (we are in the middle of a train wreck), and are currently producing neolithic thinkers focused on how to tap fossil fuels. We are producing people that waste and consume. We are producing the ‘wrong kind of people’ for the future direction we need to go in. We need to stimulate innovation, create human capital.

State and local governments and inventors can lead this process of innovation. We may not see this at the federal level.”

Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ): “We don’t have a workforce, a citzenry, that can deal with complex scientific, technical issues. This is the result of Sputnik. Through the space race, we created an elite subset of highly trained scientists, but there was no widespread diffusion of scientific knowledge.

Substituting foreign oil for domestic renewal energy will create more domestic jobs. We need to move away from a petroleum-based economy to create domestic jobs that can’t be outsourced.

We used to spend 10 percent of GDP on R&D, now it’s around 2 percent. Private sector investment largely follows public investment. The government needs to invest more in clean energy technologies.”

Freeman: “A Manhattan Project is needed for renewable energy technology. No U.S. or global agreement on climate change is achievable. Things can happen at the state, local levels.”

: “How much can be done at the federal level with the small amount of incentives available? We can set preconditions like we did with Race to the Top. We’ve had 40 states competing for $4 billion in funding. The education department has been wisely leveraging relatively small amounts of funds.

California also has innovative sustainability policies. Ten percent of U.S. schools have signed up for the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This is about incentivizing behavior.”

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