Greens vs growth?

The Washington Post had greens choking over their holiday Tofurkey this week: according to a front-page report by Paul Kane and Michael Shear, the Obama camp is currently embroiled in a heated internal row over environmentalists’ efforts "to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create ‘green-collar’ jobs."

The Post reports that the President-Elect is feeling the pull of "two competing principles" - the need to spend money fast, in order to jump-start the economy, and the need to make long-term investments in clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power. According to the Post’s logic, we can have fast public construction projects - roads and bridges, for example - to stimulate the economy in the short term; or we can resign ourselves to years of recession, and invest in America’s long-term energy future.

For green-energy wonks, though, that’s a false dichotomy. As an irate Joe Romm points out, there are plenty of short-term spending measures on environmentalists’ wish-lists, from investing in new mass-transit projects to weatherizing homes to restoring America’s forests and wetlands. Even some of the more ambitious measures - building a new "smart grid", say, or investing in carbon-capture technology for coal plants - ought to start bringing tangible economic benefits within a year or so.

The bottom line, of course, is that this isn’t a zero-sum game. There are plenty of conventional stimulus projects - mass transit investments, say, or water infrastructure improvements - that bring significant environmental benefits. And there are plenty of specifically environmental investments that would be "shovel-ready" in weeks or months, making them ideal candidates for inclusion in a stimulus package.

The last word goes to Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight: "There are, obviously, a lot of valid points for discussion about how the government ought to spent hundreds of billions of dollars," he writes. "But the Post seems to want to frame this is latte-sipping, Sierra Club hippies versus hard-workin', Chevy-drivin', everyday Amur-i-cuns. If that's the paradigm through which this gets reported, it's potentially a pretty damaging one to the Obama administration, and to the cause of energy independence." Nate's right: this is a framing battle that greens can't afford to lose.

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When talking about carbon footprints, it’s imperative that the data has been verified as free of greenwash. Maybe one day an audited carbon footprint report will be as required as an audited financial report! Verified carbon reports, published on an established registry like the GHG CleanStart™ Registry from CSA (, help stakeholders make informed decisions.

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