The Weekly Wrap: Jan. 21, 2011

The green jobs debate: President Barack Obama is to tour a General Electric plant today and tout the era of green jobs, one of the primary mantras of his presidency. Yesterday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the United States needs to get its "groove back" in order to compete in a green energy ...

The green jobs debate: President Barack Obama is to tour a General Electric plant today and tout the era of green jobs, one of the primary mantras of his presidency. Yesterday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the United States needs to get its "groove back" in order to compete in a green energy technology race, Darrel Samuelsohn reports at Politico. But is there in fact a massive number of green jobs waiting on the other side of the hill if the United States -- and the rest of the world -- goes that direction and creates a green-based economy? And, as a subtext, is China stealing that rainbow from Americans? At the New York Times, Harvard Professor Edward Glaeser argues that green energy will improve economic growth, but will not be a U.S. jobs-making machine for the average American. He says that low-wage Asian countries including China will always win the jobs game. Similarly, Michael Levi, writing here at Foreign Policy, argued that there is no clean energy race -- only the United States creating intellectual property, and the Chinese manufacturing the resulting products at low wages.

The green jobs debate: President Barack Obama is to tour a General Electric plant today and tout the era of green jobs, one of the primary mantras of his presidency. Yesterday, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the United States needs to get its "groove back" in order to compete in a green energy technology race, Darrel Samuelsohn reports at Politico. But is there in fact a massive number of green jobs waiting on the other side of the hill if the United States — and the rest of the world — goes that direction and creates a green-based economy? And, as a subtext, is China stealing that rainbow from Americans? At the New York Times, Harvard Professor Edward Glaeser argues that green energy will improve economic growth, but will not be a U.S. jobs-making machine for the average American. He says that low-wage Asian countries including China will always win the jobs game. Similarly, Michael Levi, writing here at Foreign Policy, argued that there is no clean energy race — only the United States creating intellectual property, and the Chinese manufacturing the resulting products at low wages.

Coal vs. gas: BP released its annual 20-year energy outlook yesterday, and among the interesting topics was coal. The takeaway is that China will begin to burn less coal and instead use cleaner fuels to produce electricity; BP just can’t say when that shift will occur. The subject is pivotal to the majority of the world that is convinced that the rise of global temperatures is problematic, because a major Chinese shift to natural gas-burning power plants will change global temperature projections. As it stands, China accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption, a share that BP projects to rise to 53 percent by 2030. But that trend actually cannot hold, as we’ve discussed: Unless you believe that the Communist Party is suicidal, it understands that China’s already-restive, smog-choked population will rise up and throw Party leaders out of office. The Financial Times’ Kiran Stacey notes that the report projects a European shift to natural gas. This shift is accelerated not just by climate and other pollution concerns, but rock-bottom natural gas prices, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration this week forecast would remain under $5 per thousand cubic feet through 2022. Here is specifically what the BP report says: "There is a clear recognition within China that it needs to move away from its heavy dependence on coal. Environmental constraints (local air pollution as much as climate change concerns) and the rising cost of domestic coal resources are expected to curb Chinese coal growth." Again, timing is the issue. BP does not suggest a date when "China will begin making its "transition to less coal-intensive growth."

Oil price whiplash: For the last couple of weeks, we have heard frenzied talk of imminent $100 oil, with the usual implications — global inflation, revived petrostate geopolitical demands — all of it driven by Alaska’s pipeline rupture and rising global demand as economic metrics improve. Oil sold according to the Brent benchmark was a particular target for get-rich-quick traders, who drove the price to $99.20 a barrel, its first time above the $99 mark since October 2008. The more widely used West Texas Intermediate benchmark stayed closer to $92 a barrel, but it, too, looked likely to puncture the symbolic three-digit price mark. Yesterday, the cavalry arrived. Traders seemed to realize that, though they may yet get there, it’s not back to go-go year of 2008 quite yet. Brent prices dropped to $96.58 and WTI to $88.86, Bloomberg writes. One reason is that OPEC — led by Saudi Arabian caution — appears to have decided to throw up a firewall at around $100 a barrel; the Saudis recall everything that happened in 2008 — not just the windfall profits of the rise of prices to $147 a barrel, but the painful plummet when consumers got fed up, stopped buying gasoline, traders panicked, and prices dropped to $32 a barrel. Never fret. Traders have another play — the huge gap between Brent and WTI provides a gaming board on which to gamble before the main show resumes, as Izabella Kaminska writes at FT.

Pipeline mania: Europe has contracted a serious case of pipeline fever. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made a pilgrimage to the Caspian Sea states of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to get their supply pledges for the proposed Nabucco natural gas pipeline to Europe. Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov gave only the usual smiles and handshakes, writes Reuters’ Marat Gurt, but Barroso got Azerbaijan actually to sign a paper expressing support for the line. Of course, as those who have followed the pipeline game for the last two decades know, there is a huge difference between a pledge and the construction of a pipeline. One can be safely skeptical about Nabucco. But Barroso is certainly committed to his cause. Next week, he welcomes Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov to Brussels and hopes to obtain a gas supply agreement from him, too. That has put Barroso a bit on the defensive, as Karimov has the worst human rights record in Europe at the moment. At European Voice, Andrew Stroehlein offers up some satire on that score. Barroso responds to the criticism by saying that it was NATO, and not he, who invited Karimov, Deirdre Tynan writes at Eurasianet.

<p> Steve LeVine is a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation, and author of The Oil and the Glory. </p>

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