Shifting from Defense to Green Jobs is Easy
August 20, 2009 - 12:01pm ET
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As progressives call for cuts to defense spending, a big challenge in doing so is addressing job losses that come with eliminating weapons programs. The number of jobs at stake can often be a powerful argument for defense supporters that cannot be ignored. The recent fight over the F-22 and its production in over 40 states is a clear example. But there is a remedy. By shifting defense jobs to the green energy sector, we can both save jobs and address climate change –and it is easier than we think.
To be sure, a sizeable number of jobs are at stake with a cut to defense programs. Case in point is the F-22. Although the numbers may be disputed, the jet’s production involves anywhere between 35,000 and 90,000 total jobs.
However, the majority of jobs in defense production are not actually defense specific. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Of all aerospace workers, 40 percent are employed in production; installation, maintenance, and repair; and transportation and material-moving occupations. Many of these jobs are not specific to aerospace and can be found in other manufacturing industries.” Also, other related production occupations include: rigging, systems assemblers, machinists, tool and die makers, inspectors, and sorters.
Compare defense manufacturing jobs to employment at a typical wind turbine company – they match up closely:
Source: Management Information Services, Inc., 2009.
Thus, the value of defense workers is not what they produce, but their skills in production.
Evidence of defense companies making the switch to green technology is occurring. For example, defense powerhouse Lockheed Martin has been moving forward with the research and production of solar and wave energy. In fact, by 2013 Lockheed will open the world’s largest solar energy plant in Arizona. And giant BAE Systems announced this year they will begin development of offshore deepwater wind technology.
So how can this transition occur?
Firstly, the federal government has the ability to redirect and prioritize investments. In 2008 alone, the top 100 defense contractors were paid over $315 billion for their products. With a shift in some of that funding to greater subsidies for green energy companies, boosting public investment and purchasing of green technology, we can speed up the transition to renewable energy.
Secondly, cooperation between government and the private sector can ensure that workers are not left out in the shift. From worker retraining programs both in-house and the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, reorientation of skills can be smooth. Moreover, federal programs to assist affected companies in the switch –similar to those after World War II –should be in place as well.
Overall, this is a win-win strategy. No longer investing in failed, unnecessary weaponry, retaining jobs and making critical investments in green energy, the U.S. again can be on the right track. And considering how military experts agree that climate change is the biggest national security threat, this shift can become a key component to a new 21st century defense policy.
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Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future