Why a Big Increase in “Green Jobs” Might Be a Bad Sign

Michael Giberson

The U.S. Conference of Mayors trumpets a study predicting a boom in green jobs. (A green job, for this study, is a job “devoted to the reduction of fossil fuels, the increase of energy efficiency, and the curtailment of greenhouse gas emissions.”)

According to a groundbreaking study establishing a national Green Jobs Index, the U.S. economy currently generates more than 750,000 green jobs–a number that is projected to grow five-fold to more than 4.2 million jobs over the next three decades.

Geoff Styles was not addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors report directly in a recent comment, but the more general belief of which the Mayors report is just a recent example. Political campaigns are filled with similar claims. Nonetheless, Styles’ comments are to the point:

We shouldn’t desire the largest energy sector possible, but rather the smallest one that does the job of providing the clean energy needed by the rest of the economy, where the vast majority of the goods and services we consume are created. With that in mind, let’s all hope that the 5 million green jobs we keep hearing about are merely another example of election-year pie-in-the-sky, and not a realistic estimate.

[Via The Energy Collective]


8 thoughts on “Why a Big Increase in “Green Jobs” Might Be a Bad Sign

  1. Add in the potential for export markets (a not unrealistic assumption; First Solar is primarily an exporter from their Ohio facility) and 5 million jobs can make sense.

  2. I can’t remember the exact quote or who said it, but to paraphrase, the idea was that if there wasn’t enough jobs, we would make construction workers use shovels instead of heavy equipment. If that still didn’t create enough jobs, we’d make them use thimbles instead.

  3. Certainly agree with the last paragraph. Yet, Styles’ (Btu/worker) definition of the productivity of the energy workforce is a poor one because it does not use end-use energy services (which are very difficult to quantify) as the numerator. Under his definition every green collar worker providing improved energy efficiency and smart, responsive grids (to help us reap more USEFUL services from each Quad of primary energy we use) effectively degrades the “productivity” of the energy workforce. The economy needs services (mobility, cold beer, hot showers, comfortable dwellings) to grow…more primary BTUs is only one path to get there.

  4. Certainly agree with the last paragraph. Yet, Styles’ (Btu/worker) definition of the productivity of the energy workforce is a poor one because it does not use end-use energy services (which are very difficult to quantify) as the numerator. Under his definition every green collar worker providing improved energy efficiency and smart, responsive grids (to help us reap more USEFUL services from each Quad of primary energy we use) effectively degrades the “productivity” of the energy workforce. The economy needs services (mobility, cold beer, hot showers, comfortable dwellings) to grow…more primary BTUs is only one path to get there.

  5. The general version of this is that it is only beneficial to the overall economy for more jobs to be engaged in something if more of it needs to be done than can be handled by the existing workforce. Having ten people do the job that five used to do is heralded by politicians as having “created five jobs,” while by economists… well, we can’t ask them because if that happened they’d all have fled to the hills to avoid the apocalypse.

    Maybe that is cosmic balance.

  6. The general version of this is that it is only beneficial to the overall economy for more jobs to be engaged in something if more of it needs to be done than can be handled by the existing workforce. Having ten people do the job that five used to do is heralded by politicians as having “created five jobs,” while by economists… well, we can’t ask them because if that happened they’d all have fled to the hills to avoid the apocalypse.

    Maybe that is cosmic balance.

  7. The justification for “green” energy that they provide more jobs is an example of the “broken window fallacy.”

    Breaking every window in a town creates jobs to repair them but does that make the community wealtier? Of course not.

    Energy workers require energy for their support. The more workers per unit output the more energy needed just to produce that energy and so the less NET energy available to society.

    No, we need energy sources with the fewest jobs per unit output. That goes to coal and nuclear.

  8. The justification for “green” energy that they provide more jobs is an example of the “broken window fallacy.”

    Breaking every window in a town creates jobs to repair them but does that make the community wealtier? Of course not.

    Energy workers require energy for their support. The more workers per unit output the more energy needed just to produce that energy and so the less NET energy available to society.

    No, we need energy sources with the fewest jobs per unit output. That goes to coal and nuclear.

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