About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

Beyond the light switch: Can clean energy manufacture green jobs?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

carnegie-steel-works-scientific-american-coverPittsburgh and other metropolises of the Rust Belt are littered with the remnants of U.S. manufacturing: old car factories, old smelters, old steel furnaces, even old rail lines that once brought materials in and out. Earlier this year, I visited the Homestead Works, a sprawling collection of foundries and furnaces that once graced the cover of Scientific American back in 1892.

Much of it has been torn down, but still standing is the Carrie Furnace, where streams of molten metal once flowed to find use ultimately in the girders in our skyscrapers or the bodies of our cars. Those streams haven’t flowed since 1982, and nearby Braddock, Pa.—which once supplied many of the workers at the Carrie Furnace—has felt their loss, dwindling to a few thousand people in recent decades.

But the imposing mayor of BraddockJohn Fetterman—has a plan, outlined in this video from my visit, for resurrecting his Rust Belt community.



It’s not a pipe dream. Vacant manufacturing facilities in Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere have been filling up with manufacturers of the raw components of solar cells or some of the 8,000 moving parts that go into a modern wind turbine. These form the foundation of the clean-energy economy—and the source of so-called green jobs.

Even the Chinese are getting into the act; wind turbine manufacturer A-Power recently signed an agreement to source 50,000 metric tons of steel for 300 of its turbines from remaining U.S. steel works and to build a turbine assembly plant in Nevada. That has helped them win a contract to supply wind turbines in Texas.

But the Carrie Furnace will likely remain idle permanently, becoming a museum to the steel industry, according to Ron Baraff, director of museum collections and archives for the new owners of the site, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. That’s not a bad thing, but a few more green jobs wouldn’t hurt either.

Editor’s Note: David Biello is the host of a forthcoming series on PBS, titled Beyond the Light Switch. The series, produced by Detroit Public Television, will explore how transformation is coming to how we use and produce electricity, impacting the environment, national security and the economy.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 6 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. ConcernedCitizen 4:25 pm 12/1/2010

    Shame these green jobs can only exist by taxpayer funded, government subsidies, because the energy costs of solar/wind are 3-4x the alternatives.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Soccerdad 4:33 pm 12/1/2010

    We’re in luck. Spain has already run an experiment to answer the title of this article. You can indeed create green jobs through massive public funding. Unfortunately they lost 2 "normal" jobs for every 1 "green" job created. And it has helped bring them to the brink of insolvency.

    Other than that, it has been a great success.

    Link to this
  3. 3. timjwilson 4:51 pm 12/1/2010

    Yeah right, SoccerDad, we shouldn’t make any attempt to try anything new…let’s keep the U.S. economy the way it is, a nation of burger-flippers.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Jürgen Hubert 3:42 am 12/2/2010

    "Shame these green jobs can only exist by taxpayer funded, government subsidies, because the energy costs of solar/wind are 3-4x the alternatives."

    At the moment this may be the case (and I don’t think you are figuring the massive subsidies _other_ energy sources get into this), but the costs for regenerative energy are falling rapidly, while those for fossil fuels will keep on climbing.

    Sometimes it is wise to _anticipate_ the future instead of just reacting to evens as they occur.

    Link to this
  5. 5. dwt11 3:45 pm 12/2/2010

    Please don’t forget the REAL costs of fossil fuels- pollution, destruction of environment, and subsidies from the government. Big Oil and Big Gas get billions in government tax breaks. As a side note I remember back around 2001 George Bush saying it was cost prohibitive to develop alternative energies- around $20 billion. So far our oil wars in the Middle East are over $1 trillion. I’m not a math major so maybe someone can explain to me how we are better off? Don’t give me the terrorism crap reason. Most terrorism exists because we support Israel. Without oil would we?

    Link to this
  6. 6. Postman1 10:54 pm 12/2/2010

    Something new, if it works, yes. Copying something that has already failed, in hope of achieving different results, is stupid.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article