President Obama promises to create five million “Green jobs” over the next decade – a goal he believes will radically transform society for the better. He is partly right: it will radically transform society. But what if Americans do not want to trade their SUVs for bicycles, their coal-fired electric plants for non-existence wind power, or their hard-earned tax dollars for inefficient industries and an additional rank of lawyer-laden environmentalist bureaucracy?
According to Obama, mandated technologies can not only provide jobs to help eliminate our dependence on foreign and even domestic petroleum – it can virtually overturn every problem since Original Sin. Obama’s “Green jobs” adviser Van Jones has presented this leftist agenda as a panacea for all of society’s problems: “We imagine formerly incarcerated people moving from jail cells to solar cells—helping to harvest the sun, heal the land, and repair our souls.”
Unfortunately, promoters of the Green jobs agenda use dubious assumptions and analyses that could lead to “a smaller economy and…a society that will lessen the well-being” of most Americans, according to the Property & Environmental Research Center (PERC), the nation’s oldest non-profit think tank focusing on free-market solutions for the environment. PERC’s researchers from universities around the country examined Green job analyses conducted by such sources as the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) and the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-wing organization headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. PERC scholars found the potential to create decent jobs in wind and solar power industries immeasurably overstated.
The Center for American Progress asserts optimistically that Green jobs will be created “in every region and state of the country.” Green jobs promotional studies yield “seemingly precise estimates that give the illusion of scientific reliability to numbers that are actually based on faulty assumptions,” according to PERC. Claims of economic multipliers also are used to stretch the supposed expansion of jobs. Multipliers are based on the theory that an increase in activity in one firm will automatically lead to increases in other firms.
Early in his presidency, Obama said he wanted to spend $150 billion over the next 10 years on solar, wind, and other renewable sources as well as energy conservation, but significant progress will not be seen at less than the cost of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars—“possibly trillions of dollars,” according to a United Nations estimate, PRRC said.
The exact definition of a Green job is dubious. Positions can be considered Green merely because they fit the Left’s political priorities. The Mayors Report defines “government administration of environmental programs” as a source of Green jobs, for example “secretarial positions, bookkeepers, janitors, and lawyers.” The last is most disconcerting.
America already gets 20 percent of its power from nuclear energy, which is as carbon-free as wind and solar, but it is considered verboten by the Greens. The UN Energy Report, for instance, maintains that “nuclear power is not considered an environmentally acceptable alternative to fossil fuels, given unresolved safety, health, and environmental issues.” The Energy Report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors includes present nuclear power jobs as Green jobs—but it does not count future jobs in nuclear power.
The Mayors Report instead praises “additional investment” to “develop the nation’s alternative energy infrastructure” by using such items as wood waste, ethanol, used railroad ties, “and old utility polls.”
Most damaging to the Green cause is the dismal outlook for wind and solar energy. The Mayors Report declares, “wind energy is currently the fastest growing alternative energy resource in the country” and “solar power is an alternative energy source providing opportunity for massive job growth.”
A realistic look at wind and solar power tells another tale. The Department of Energy forecasts that, largely through subsidies, wind as a contributor to “renewable” electrical generation (“Renewable” electricity production has been subsidized with a federal tax credit as an incentive.) is estimated to increase from 7 percent in 2006 to 16 percent in 2020 and 20 percent in 2030. It is unlikely to rise to any significant level over the foreseeable future in terms of total national energy. Wind currently provides less than 0.6 percent of total U.S. energy production, according to federal figures. The Department of Energy’s latest projections say wind will account for less than 0.9 percent of total energy consumption in 2020 and 1.1 percent in 2030.
Wind power has significant problems. Wind turbines cannot produce when wind speed is too high or low, or if the turbine blades become iced. While wind is free, the construction, installation, and transmission costs necessary to develop and deliver it are not. Another problem associated with wind energy is that many of the most favorable locations for wind are not accessible to the electric grid. The Department of Energy estimates an added 12,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines costing $60 billion would be needed to get the contribution of wind to the nation’s electric production up to 20 percent by 2030.
As for another Obama favorite, solar power, huge hurdles face any meaningful expansion of solar electric generation. In spite of large subsidies and “decades of effort, the contribution to meeting the nation’s energy needs is only 0.05 percent,” according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). By 2030, the contribution of solar to energy production is projected by EIA to rise to a mere 0.13 percent.
Such unproductive resources fit well with the environmentalists’ aversion to productivity in general. The Green jobs literature not merely leads toward but praises inefficiency. The UN Energy Report argues that “a negative feature of today’s economy is that it has increased labor productivity and so reduced the amount of labor necessary to deliver goods and services.” The report also knocks the steel and oil industries for increasing labor productivity. PERC notes eco-hysteria’s propaganda contains “three highly peculiar assumptions about human well-being”:
- Increasing labor productivity should be discouraged;
- Low labor productivity does not produce low wages; and
- Subsidizing labor at the expense of capital will not delay the development of new technologies that increase the efficiency with which scarce resources are used.
The resultant cost is high. The CAP Green paper declared that if $100 billion is spent on Green activities that 935,200 jobs would be directly created, implying a cost of $107,000 per new job created. PERC notes such firms will be “unable to compete in the marketplace without permanent subsidies due to the costs inherent in such inefficiencies.”
Government mandates can’t take the place of free markets. Resource conservation, which the “Green’s purport to support, has been a natural incentive for markets throughout our nation’s history. Companies using resources typically have encouraged resource conservation—such as the forest products industry, which plants millions of trees a year, replacing more than those harvested. There is scant evidence that command-and-control economics accomplish efficient conservation.
Much of the arguments promoting Green jobs are hostile toward free markets. Anti-trade sentiment flows through the Green job promotional propaganda. The UNEP is explicit in its anti-trade positions. It contends, “Companies like Wal-Mart (with its policy of global sourcing and especially its policy of searching for cheap products, with potential negative impacts for labor and the environment) are major drivers and symptoms of” increased global trade. Green job backers fail to acknowledge that their anti-trade assumptions “are contrary to standard economic theory,” as PERC puts it.
The environmental community wants to reach beyond economics to affect the personal lives and standard of living of every Westerner. Chief among these desires is the hope more Americans can be shamed out of their SUVs and squeezed into public mass transit. CAP, for example, argues that light rail and subway systems will provide “job growth in engineering, electrical work, welding, metal fabrication, and engine assembly sectors.” But they don’t take into account the need for an extensive feeder system to bring riders to and from rail stops.
And not everyone gets to ride in a motorized vehicle. UNEP insists, “Bicycles and modern bicycle rickshaws offer a sustainable alternative and create employment in manufacturing and transportation services.”
“Nothing better captures the demeaning attitude toward ordinary people, that is rampant in the Green jobs literature,” wrote the PERC researchers, “than the suggestion that rickshaws could become a significant form of transportation in a Green economy.”
Not only the untold costs, but the scale of social change in the deeply flawed vision of the Green proponents would affect nearly every aspect of life.
Dispelling the many myths, describing the promotion of Green jobs, and furnishing grounds for caution in accepting the Greens’ conclusions are largely the work of Andrew P. Morriss, the H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law & Professor of Business at the University of Illinois, and a senior fellow at PERC; William T. Bogart, the Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Economics at York College of Pennsylvania; Andrew Dorchak, Head of Reference Services and a Foreign & International Specialist for the Case Western Reserve University School of Law; and Roger E. Meiners, the Goolsby Distinguished Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Texas at Arlington and a senior fellow at PERC.