Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Responsibility to American Workers

An article in the New York Times last Wednesday chronicled the visit President Obama made to a small town called Newton in Iowa. The author, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, wrote that Newton had previously been a town which ran on the work provided by Maytag, but that the town has experienced severe job loss since Maytag has closed its US factories and moved abroad. Since this time, the article described, a company called Trinity Structural Towers has begun manufacturing wind turbines in the factory previously occupied by Maytag. Though the production of these energy producing turbines has been slow and not all of the jobs lost to the outsourcing of Maytag have been replaced, this new industry has helped to restore some life to Newton. The article highlighted that President Obama praised Newton as a leader in “the next energy revolution” and urged that more alternative energy legislation must be passed.

Newton, Iowa is, in many ways, a microcosm of the issues experienced by people across the country. In recent years, the expansions of global capitalism and increased international trade have created serious repercussions for the American people. According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost each year when companies like Maytag move their labor overseas. For most companies, moving their factories outside of the US is simply a matter of increasing their profits by finding workers they can pay less and finding cheaper resources. Outsourcing has become so extreme that the US imports far more products than it exports, causing an imbalance of trade and resulting in a fall of the value of the dollar. In part, the American government has some blame in the outsourcing of jobs, which has partially led to the current economic recession. NAFTA and other trade agreements, which were pushed through by American politicians and legislators, enable and even encourage companies to move their jobs outside of the US. As President Obama touched on in the above mentioned article, the government has a responsibility to create new jobs in these difficult financial times, and it has a responsibility to create many of these jobs in the field of alternative energy.

The expansion of wind, solar, hydroelectric and other renewable energy industries has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States. Though legislation is slowly being passed to encourage the production of alternative energy, America has still fallen behind most other western countries in the use of renewable resources. Alternative energies like wind and solar currently account for less than 3 percent of energy use in the United States. While, as Mr. Obama stated in an address to the town of Newton, this number could rise to 20 percent by 2030, Denmark, for example, already produces almost 20 percent of their energy through wind power alone. Additionally, the US originally pioneered solar energy and has since fallen behind many other countries in its production and use. The lack of serious attention paid to alternative energies by American legislators has exacerbated global warming and has put the health of the American public at risk from pollution. These problems have yet been worsened by the aforementioned outsourcing, which increases the distance goods must travel to reach American consumers and thus increases their carbon footprint.

Given the shortcomings of government representatives in both protecting American jobs from outsourcing and slowing carbon emissions by using renewable resources, as well as the necessities created by the economic recession, broadening the alternative energy industry could ameliorate each of these issues. The time has come for representatives to end their reluctance to advance renewable energy; legislators must take a determined approach to creating incentives for companies to switch to alternative energy and for new manufacturers to produce the technology needed to uses these alternatives. Such an approach would be a responsible and enlightened way to create jobs, reverse environmental decline and help American towns like Newton.