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The green technology revolution is underway. Can the U.S. keep up?

The biggest questions facing our state—and our planet—need answers.

Hear how Golden Gate University alumni like Dara Grey (BA ‘11) are weighing in on the policies facing green jobs initatives.

Is President Obama's "Green Jobs" initiative a colossal failure? Or is the Bay Area suddenly leading the nation in clean-tech growth? Maybe it depends upon whom you ask.

With gas prices soaring and unemployment lingering, the conversation on green jobs is once again heating up.

Several media outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Forbes have written articles this month questioning the growth of green jobs.

Just last summer, the New York Times acknowledged the administration’s “green jobs” initiative — which the president promised would create 5 million green jobs over ten years — had failed. The backdrop for the story was the San Francisco Bay Area, where green jobs have actually been lost, not gained, according to a nonpartisan Brookings Institute report.

Upon further scrutiny of the source study, however, it turns out certain findings were cherry picked for the article that paint a certain picture.

For example, according to the Brookings Institute report, the loss of jobs was actually only in the San Jose region, not the entire Bay Area. The article didn’t mention the report’s findings that overall, the Bay Area gained 15,000 green economy jobs in that period, a growth rate of 44%. The report continued to explain that the clean-tech segment had "produced explosive job gains" and that "newer clean economy establishments — especially those in young energy-related segments such as wave and ocean power, solar, wind energy and smart grid — added jobs at a torrid pace."

A Los Angeles Times staff OpEd shared the same sentiment just recently, stating that current reports are depicting a more stable landscape for green job employment than what was originally declared last summer.

The question remains, if it’s the wave of the future, why isn’t the clean tech sector in the US exploding right now? Some argue that the sector would be expanding much more quickly if Obama had succeeded in passing “cap and trade,” which would have raised the cost of energy thereby making solar more economically competitive with fossil fuels.

"The world is moving forward with clean tech," says Dara Grey (BA 11), account manager at Greentech Media, the leading source of news and research on green technology and the clean tech movement. “But there is disagreement in the US on how best to move forward. We need a long-term consistent policy at the federal level. There's a huge amount of potential, but there’s uncertainty in the climate because we don’t know subsidies, and policies will be in place for a long time.”

Some argue that our values as a nation play a role in the stagnation of jobs growth in the clean-tech sector.

“While long-term legislation is a good driver and catalyst for the green economy growth, I don’t see its lack as the main thing to blame for a slowdown in green economic growth,” says Adjunct GGU Professor Diana Rothschild, sustainability strategy management consultant, who helped launch sustainability efforts for Walmart.

“Rather, a combination of leadership decisions and societal values is likely more to blame. We will need to see the courage of business leaders to take a long-term view towards valuing investments and including the total cost of investment, with Wall Street incentivizing longer-term investments that value externalities as key to driving growth in the green economy.”

Regardless of the cause of the slowdown (is there really a slow down? Or just growth below expectations?) in the US, the fact remains that global demand for clean tech is growing fast, clean-economy jobs offer median wages 13% higher than the rest of the economy and generate exports at twice the rate of the average US job, and without more government action, America currently risks failing to exploit growing world demand and being outperformed by competitors in the space.

“Do I think the US is losing its edge in the green economy as a result of the slowdown?” says Rothschild. “Yes, I do.”

With experienced faculty like Rothschild, GGU is preparing its students for success by teaching sustainability across degree programs. Students can take electives in marketing for sustainability, sustainable business operations, accounting and finance for sustainability and IT for sustainability.

"The US economy is not going to be the same as it is today 50 years in the future,” says Grey, who graduated from GGU in 2011 and got a job in clean tech. "But that’s no reason not to move forward with these energy changes in order to make a better world."

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