Schools Should Stick to Basics and Resist Green Fad

Educators have a legitimate concern regarding how best to prepare their students to compete for jobs in a rapidly changing global economy. However, teachers should resist the temptation to steer students toward the latest fad — "green energy jobs"— and focus instead on helping them master math and science.

According to a report released in June 2008 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total world consumption of marketed energy is projected to increase by 50 percent from 2005 to 2030, with much of that growth occurring in developing countries such as China and India. But the sources of energy and market share of each, especially among alternatives like wind and solar, is highly uncertain. Ultimately, the future of energy production in this country will be determined by market forces.

During the last several years federal and state governments have lavished subsidies on the ethanol industry. Today many ethanol refineries are going bankrupt. Few would have predicted six months ago, when gasoline cost more than $4 per gallon, that it would be selling for less than $2 a gallon today. The current rage is electric cars. The accompanying chart indicates the actual decline in employment in the battery industry from 1972 thru 2008.

Employment in battery manufacturing - click to enlarge

None of this is to imply that the future will not hold promising job prospects in the production and distribution of energy. Some of these jobs will be in alternative energy, though most will involve traditional forms such as coal, natural gas and nuclear. It is possible that in the future we will benefit from energy-utilizing technical breakthroughs not yet contemplated.

Future jobs in energy will go to workers who possess high levels of proficiency in math, engineering and the hard sciences, such as chemistry, physics, geology and biology. High school students well grounded in these disciplines will be in the best position to successfully complete the higher education courses in science, engineering and technology that lead to high-paying jobs in the energy industry.

Unfortunately, the following chart from the Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study, published in the Dec. 10, 2008, edition of The Washington Post, indicates U.S. eighth-graders trail many of their peers from around the world in their knowledge of math and science.

TIMSS Rankings - click to enlarge

This chart was published by the Washington Post on Dec. 8, 2008, reflecting 2007 results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study.

Educators should drop most environmental courses from their K-12 programs. Much of what is taught in school under the guise of environmental education is not based on science, but is instead environmental indoctrination based on a particular philosophical or political point of view.

Students from many other countries are working hard to increase their proficiency in math and the sciences; sadly, many students in the U.S. have been taught to be more "green," but they are not acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills to compete for future jobs in the critical energy industry. In a global economy those jobs will go to those with the best math and science skills, not to those with the best intentions.  


Russ Harding is director of the Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.