In addition to helping the environment, an economy driven by clean energy would create hundreds of thousands of "green collar" jobs and help revitalize U.S. manufacturing, proponents said as they gathered at a conference of union organizers and environmental activists.
The growth of renewable energy should produce some 850,000 new jobs at existing U.S. companies alone, said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance, a group formed by the United Steelworkers union and the Sierra Club.
The creation of such jobs were the focus of a two-day conference in Pittsburgh billed as the largest of its kind to date. More than 780 people — including government officials, activists and corporate representatives — met Thursday and Friday.
"We're talking about reinvigorating the manufacturing economy that we've got by putting it to environmental purposes," he said.
Some so-called green jobs are related to new technology designed to generate carbon-free power, such as wind turbines and solar panels, Foster said. But others are in older industries, such as mining for iron ore used in steel production, he said.
"That steel's being rolled into plate to make wind turbine collars," he said, pointing to rising demand for the steel among turbine makers. "Those are just as much green jobs as the jobs of the people who are manufacturing the wind turbines."
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings "is probably the single most important job-creating area of the new green economy," he said, referring to potential investments in better windows and air conditioning systems, among other things.
Foster said he sees a shift in the global economy toward clean energy, a change that "means lots of jobs for lots of people."
Among the speakers scheduled to appear at the conference are Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania state House voted in favor of borrowing $850 million to encourage use of cleaner energy sources, a main element of Rendell's energy strategy.
The Blue Green Alliance was formed in 2006 by the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club to promote job creation and work on environmental initiatives including global warming and the development of solar and wind power.