On election night there was a party that would have seemed impossible a year ago. Environmental justice and civil rights activists, the Republican governor, billionaire financiers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs of every stripe, and George Schultz (formerly Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State) were backslapping and fist-bumping at the Public House outside AT&T Park. These strange bedfellows did not come together to celebrate the Giants win over Texas -- although that was surely an omen -- but rather, the 20-point rejection of Proposition 23, Texas Oil’s attempt to stop the emerging clean energy economy in its tracks.
The significance of Prop 23’s lopsided defeat will be debated, but in our view it is this: it shatters the myth that clean energy somehow is at odds with creating new jobs. That myth, carefully concocted and nurtured by the fossil-fuel industry and their spin-doctors, never quite seemed logical -- how could an industry with more entrepreneurial activity than any other fail to create jobs? But no matter. In our sound-bite world, if you assert something and put enough dollars behind it, it must be true. Quite the opposite is true in this case, and voters have now signaled en masse that they don’t believe the myth. Despite the ongoing trauma of having more unemployed workers than any other state in the nation, Californians voted by a large margin to support clean energy. Why? Poll after poll shows that voters’ foremost concern is jobs. Could it be that voters see the two-fold growth of new jobs sprouting from the clean economy over the rest?
Jobs are what we create in the clean energy industry. Our residential solar company, Sungevity, has grown from ten employees two years ago to over 100 today in Oakland, California, a city desperate for jobs. As we go forward, we expect to create hundreds more new jobs across the country. There are thousands of other green startup companies with similar stories.
Another significant takeaway from the Prop 23 defeat: unwittingly, the two Texas oil companies and their deep-pocketed backers, the Koch Brothers, have now demonstrated the political power of clean energy. No political analyst worth his stripes will miss the signal sent on Tuesday: with 60% of the electorate supporting it, clean energy is no longer a small political niche; it’s crossed over to become a mainstream movement, with broad support among a vast majority of voters. How many other big issues do die-hard Republicans and die-hard Democrats agree on these days? Not many.
The “No on 23”campaign also showed that green issues can draw out the big guns from across the political spectrum to fund a well-organized ass-whooping, which is what they gave the other side. Hearing Schultz and Schwarzenegger expound on the promise of a clean economy at the “No on 23” victory party, alongside committed Democrats and environmentalists, was a powerful and rare treat indeed. The genie is permanently out of the bottle.
It may be premature to say the “jobs versus the environment" debate is dead, but the more uplifting “what’s good for the environment is good for employment” reality burst onto the political stage on Tuesday. The theme of job growth through clean energy will continue to become more powerful in political races across the country, because green job growth is a proven fact, and facts are stubborn things.
Danny Kennedy is the founder of Sungevity and Charlie Finnie is the managing partner of Greener Capital.