But several experts remain skeptical that the candidates’ plans are sweeping enough to bring about dramatic change or politically balanced enough to be approved by Congress.
In addition, the very economy they seek to save is likely to make it harder for them to come up with the cash needed to accelerate growth in the green sector.
“Before the financial bailout, I would have said I’m 100 percent sure we are in a significantly better situation today — politically and policy-wise — than we were a year ago,” said Andrew Light, director of George Mason University’s Center for Global Ethics.
Obama’s promise of millions of new jobs stems largely from his proposal to pump $15 billion each year into research and development of cleaner fuels. “Our goal should be, in 10 years’ time, we are free of dependence on Middle Eastern oil,” he said.
Michael Lenox, a specialist on environmental sustainability at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says that’s “optimistic.”
But Lenox is sympathetic to Obama’s overarching argument — that pumping billions into R&D will produce new technologies and new businesses.
“Who in the 1970s would have said, ‘Microsoft will become a huge firm and big employer?’” he asked. “There might be somebody out there now that could grow and become that.”
Lenox also agrees with an entrepreneurial approach rather than a Big Government project to create new fuels. “I’d fear a Manhattan-type project might pick the wrong technology,” he said.
But his UVA colleague, Darden Dean Robert F. Bruner, cautions that reluctant private investors also need to get on the green wagon to spur swift change.
“They’re guarded in their optimism about the economic boom in this area,” Bruner said. “The problem with state-of-the-art green ventures is their payoff horizons are further in the future than was the case with the technology sector.”
Bruner believes Obama’s $15 billion annual program might prompt new interest from private investors. Compared with federal research into health and defense projects, it’s a small sum, Bruner said, but “it is a material step up. It would help to draw talent into universities and private enterprise. It would be a signal of serious intent for venture capitalists to follow along.”