Mything in action: Why conservatives hate green jobs

This post will debunk 7 Myths About Green Jobs and the longer version, Green Jobs Myths. The internal inconsistencies and general illogic of these articles are staggering: Progressives will be quoting from them in defense of our positions for years to come (see debunking of Myth 6).

These two articles survey and critique the green jobs literature, including a Center for American Progress (CAP) report on Green Recovery. The authors write, “the CAP report is the product of left-leaning think tanks (sic) in Washington, D.C.” They note CAP is “headed by former Clinton Administration member John Podesta … who served as co-chair of the Obama transition team.”

So it is only fair to note that the myth articles were “produced with support from the Institute for Energy Research,” which itself “has received $307,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998.” The President of IER is Robert Bradley “who previously served as Director of Public Policy Analysis at Enron, where he was a speechwriter for CEO Kenneth Lay,” who was “convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges on May 25, 2006.

‘Nuff said on that.

The green jobs imperative rests on three legs:

  1. Action on global warming is inevitable, so countries that act first will reap a competitive advantage.
  2. We import several hundred billion of dollars of oil each year, so replacing that oil with home-grown energy and home-made technology has multiple economic benefits, including job creation.
  3. In the near future, the only jobs left will be green. That is because our current system of production is unsustainable — it will destroy a livable climate for the next 1,000 years.

President Obama understands all three of those points, as he has made clear in two recent speeches:

We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity.”

We can remain the world’s leading importer of foreign oil or we can become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc or we can create jobs preventing its worst effects.”

Conservatives hate the notion of green jobs because their entire anti-science, anti-climate, anti-environment message is built around the (false) notion of a trade-off between reducing pollution and jobs.

Conservatives have only one job-creation message: lower taxes for the wealthy. And that strategy failed miserably — indeed catastrophically — as the last several years have painfully demonstrated.

Conservatives no longer have a defensible job creation strategy. And they have expicitly rejected all 3 climate strategies (a market-based incentive price for CO2, higher funding for clean energy, regulations to promote clean energy). So their only remaining message today is a negative one: We must do nothing whatsoever on global warming because it threatens our economy and jobs.

This ideological and messaging straight jacket has led the conservative movement stagnation to such extremes that, for instance, The Heritage Foundation even opposes energy efficiency. The two articles that are the subject of this post are but the latest examples. The abstract to 7 Myths About Green Jobs says the authors:

“… surveyed this green jobs literature, analyzed its assumptions, and … found that the prescribed undertaking would lead to restructuring and possibly impoverishing our society.”

It is staying on the business as usual path that would certainly impoverish our society immeasurably. To the conservative economists who wrote the report, “restructuring” means pursuing a low carbon, resource-efficient economy and hence avoiding the inevitable collapse of our current Ponzi scheme.

Let me focus on the myths here:

Myth 1: Everyone understands what a “green job” is.
Fact 1: No standard definition of a “green job” exists.

… Committing hundreds of billions of dollars to promoting something lacking a transparent definition cannot be justified.

This argument is so silly as to barely deserve rebuttal. It might surprise the authors to know, for instance, that “national security” lacks a standard, transparent definition and has since its widespread introduction some six decades ago (see Chapater 1 of my book on that specific subject for the Council on Foreign Relations: Defining National Security). And yet somehow we pursue national security and devote hundreds of billions of dollars a year to it.

For the record, my preferred definition is “green jobs are those that do not plunder nonrenewable energy resources and natural capital and/or do not to destroy a livable climate.”

Myth 2: Creating green jobs will boost productive employment.
Fact 2: Green jobs estimates in these oft-quoted studies include huge numbers of clerical, bureaucratic, and administrative positions that do not produce goods and services for consumption.

These green jobs studies mistake any position receiving a paycheck for a position creating value. Simply hiring people to write and enforce regulations, fill-out forms, and process paperwork is not a recipe for creating wealth. Much of the promised boost in green employment turns out to be in non-productive — and expensive — positions that raise costs for consumers. These higher paying jobs that fail to create a more eco-friendly society dramatically skew the results in both number of green jobs created and salary levels of those jobs.

No and no. And no. [Though I am glad that these guys seem to be endorsing the notion of creating a “more eco-friendly Society.”]

These economists are really stuck in a 1970s model of end-of-pipe command-and-control regulation, as opposed to the innovation-driving, market-based approach advanced by President Bush’s father (with SOx trading), progressives, and competitiveness experts like Harvard’s Michael Porter (see “Why the United States REQUIRES a strong climate bill to remain competitive“).

Now it is true that some fraction of the green jobs are not production-line jobs — green companies need secretaries and CFOs, too. But it is just silly to say any significant fraction of the green jobs are just paperwork processors.

How silly is this argument? In Myth 4, the authors claim “the green jobs described in the literature actually encourage low-paying jobs in less desirable conditions.”

That’s right, these economists are simultaneously arguing on the one hand that we shouldn’t try to create green jobs because they are “higher paying jobs” and on the other hand we shouldn’t try to create green jobs because they are “lower paying jobs.” I think it was Harry Truman who said, “Give me a one-armed economist!

[Note to self: Have we finally answered the Zen question — What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is the sound of a useful economist.]

It might be added that nongreen companies like ExxonMobil create lots of jobs that do not produce goods or services for consumption, such as lobbyists and economists working for conservative think tanks. But I digress.

Myth 3: Green jobs forecasts are reliable.
Fact 3: The green jobs studies made estimates using poor economic models based on dubious assumptions.

… Moreover, the estimates use a technique (input-output analysis) that is inappropriate to the conditions of technological change presumed by the green jobs literature itself. This yields seemingly precise estimates that give the illusion of scientific reliability to numbers that are actually based on faulty assumptions.

They cannot be serious. At best, this is an argument for spending more money on better modeling — and I’m quite confident that better modeling of technological change would show that more green jobs were created by progressive policies, not fewer (but we’ll have to wait for a progressive economist to document that).

But in reality this is the most laughable argument of the bunch. Conservatives thrive on economic analyses that don’t model technological change well (see “Wrong Again 2: Delayers cry wolf with same old Garbage In, Garbage Out economic model“).

I defy anyone to name even a single major study by a conservative organization or fossil fuel company critiquing action on global warming, specifically a cap-and-trade bill, that uses an economic analysis adequately models technological change. Certainly the Energy Information Administration’s NEMS model, which is probably the one most widely used, simply inputs a variety of arbitrary technology assumptions, including ones that limit the growth of key clean energy technologies like wind.

I look forward to quoting the sentence highlighted above in a future critiques of conservative economic analyses, which give new meaning to the terms “illusion of scientific reliability” and “faulty assumptions.”

Myth 4: Green jobs promote employment growth.
Fact 4: By promoting more jobs instead of more productivity, the green jobs described in the literature actually encourage low-paying jobs in less desirable conditions. Economic growth cannot be ordered by Congress or by the United Nations (UN). Government interference in the economy — such as restricting successful technologies in favor of speculative technologies favored by special interests — will generate stagnation.

Green jobs estimates promise greatly expanded (and pleasant and well-paid) employment. This promise is false. The green jobs model is built on promoting inefficient use of labor. The studies favor technologies that employ large numbers of people rather than those technologies that use labor efficiently. In a competitive market, the factors of production, including labor, are paid for their productivity. By focusing on low productivity jobs, the green jobs literature dooms employees to low wages in a shrinking economy. The studies also generally ignore the millions of jobs that will be destroyed by the restrictions imposed by governments on disfavored products and technologies.

Exactly backwards in every respect. First, the jobs in unsustainable industries are doomed because they are … unsustainable and contributing to humanity’s self destruction (see “When the global Ponzi scheme collapses (circa 2030), the only jobs left will be green“).

Second, pollution is harmful waste and inefficient use of energy is inherently unproductive. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are inherently more productive than what they replace. As but one example, the heat lost by U.S. electricity generators today equals all of the energy the country of Japan uses for every purpose. Thus cogeneration or a combined heat and power is inherently more productive and less wasteful (see “Recycled Energy — A core climate solution“).

Ultimately, our country can become much more efficient in its use of energy, and that is a big productivity booster (see “Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far“). I will blog more on this later.

For the record, in 2008 U.S. wind energy grew by record 8,300 MW. It was responsible for 42% of all new U.S. electricity generation installed last year. In fact, in January, Fortune reported:

The wind industry now employs more people than coal mining in the United States. Wind industry jobs jumped to 85,000 in 2008, a 70% increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the American Wind Energy Association. In contrast, coal mining employs about 81,000 workers.

The 35,000 jobs the wind industry added in 2008 are almost certainly the single biggest source of new jobs created in the entire energy industry last year.

These ain’t low-paying jobs.

Myth 5: The world economy can be remade by reducing trade and relying on local production and reduced consumption without dramatically decreasing our standard of living.
Fact 5: History shows that individual nations cannot produce everything its citizens need or desire. People and countries have talents that allow specialization in products and services that make them ever more efficient, lower-cost producers, thereby enriching all people.

This is a strawman and reductio ad absurdum. First off, again, it is the failure to prevent catastrophic global warming that will dramatically decrease our standard of living for 1000 years to come.

Second, the principal “trade” that progressives want to reduce is our dangerously unsustainable importation of 60% of our oil from mostly non-democratic countries at a cost of several hundred billion dollars a year. And yes we want to do that with local production like American-made high-efficiency cars and American-made electricity running plug-in hybrids.

Quite separate from global warming, we are facing imminent peak oil (see “Merrill: Non-OPEC production has likely peaked, oil output could fall by 30 million bpd by 2015” and “Science/IEA: World oil crunch looming? Not if we can find six Saudi Arabias!” and “IEA says oil will peak in 2020“). The only Saudi Arabias of oil left are home-grown energy efficiency and renewable energy. Failing to embrace them quickly, means $200 a barrel oil is right around the corner — a new McKinsey study makes the same point here.

Myth 6: Government mandates are a substitute for free markets.
Fact 6: Companies react more swiftly and efficiently to the demands of their customers/markets, than to cumbersome government mandates.

Green jobs supporters want to reorder society by mandating preferred technologies and expenditures through government entities. But the responses to government mandates are not the same as the responses to market incentives. We have powerful evidence that market incentives prompt the same resource conservation that green jobs advocates purport to desire. For example, the rising cost of energy is a major incentive to redesign production processes and products to use less energy. People do not want energy; they want the benefits of energy. Those who can deliver more desired goods and services by reducing the energy — and thus the cost of production — will be rewarded. On the other hand, we have no evidence to support the idea that command and- control regimes accomplish conservation.

This argument is so internally inconsistent as to raise the question of whether the authors even understand what they are saying, even understand that they are making the progressive case for us.

First off, my response to Myth Two already addressed this tired red-herring that progressives are promoting 1970s model of end-of-pipe command-and-control regulation, rather than innovation-driving, market-based strategies, including emissions trading of the kind the first President Bush enacted.

Second, let’s be very clear on exactly what the authors are saying, since I for one expect to be quoting them in the future:

We have powerful evidence that market incentives prompt the same resource conservation that green jobs advocates purport to desire. For example, the rising cost of energy is a major incentive to redesign production processes and products to use less energy.

But this is precisely the same argument that progressive advocates of green jobs make! We want to use this very market incentive — making dirty energy more expensive. That is the whole point of a cap-and-trade. So I’m glad these conservative economists acknowledge that higher costs for dirty energy are “a major incentive to redesign production processes and products to use less energy” — although they seem a tad confused about the direction of energy prices in the last several months, since they write about “the rising cost of energy.

It is standard economics that the best way to deal with any pollutant is to have its price reflect its damage to human health and well-being. That is what progressives support. The two sentences quoted above offer a ringing endorsement for the progressive strategy.

Myth 7: Wishing for technological progress is sufficient.
Fact 7: Some technologies preferred by the green jobs studies are not capable of efficiently reaching the scale necessary to meet today’s demands.

The green jobs literature’s preferred technologies face significant problems in scaling up to the levels they propose. These problems are well documented in readily available technical literature, yet are resolutely ignored in the green jobs reports. At the same time, existing viable technologies that fail to meet the green jobs supporters’ political criteria are simply rejected out of hand. This selective technological optimism/pessimism is not a sufficient basis for remaking society to fit the dream of planners, politicians, or special interests who think they know best, despite empirical evidence to the contrary.

At the risk of repeating myself, this argument is so internally inconsistent as to raise the question of whether the authors even understand what they are saying.

It is only conservatives who are “wishing for technological progress” — advancing rhetorical positions that they don’t back up with real policy (see “Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah” and Bush wanted to destroy the future of coal as much as the industry did, Futuregen was “nothing more than a public relations ploy,” House study finds).

Progressives support a variety of policies to achieve technological progress and market penetration of clean energy — market incentives, R&D, innovation-driving regulations, and so on — all of which conservatives strongly oppose (see “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies“).

The scientific and technological literature makes clear that with the right policies, the key energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies most certainly do scale:

The authors are unhappy that “the green jobs literature almost completely dismisses nuclear power generation.” Of course, as I have argued at length, nuclear power has a far graver scale issues than most other low-carbon energy solutions — including the fact that it relies on a nonrenewable fuel (see “An introduction to nuclear power“).

I’m not sure there is much more to be said about this analysis, whose internal inconsistencies and general illogic are staggering.

14 Responses to Mything in action: Why conservatives hate green jobs

  1. nsrig says:

    If i may make a post request (not seriously, but i thought of a good title) “living in america: how and why everyday people get duped into beleiving false realities” or “the earth is flat the sequel: how right wing conservative views became so skewed”

    For myself its regular practice to question everything, especially my own beliefs. The history of man tells a story of the entire human race consistently been wrong about everything they ever beleived, so why do we think we are different now?

  2. Rick C says:


    I’m interested in when you will address the oil industry’s massive Sunday Morning chatshow sponsor campaign of EnergyTomorrow ads. They’re really getting under my skin.

  3. charlie says:

    What I don’t get is how green jobs are going to help get off imported oil. Yes, importing oil from outside mexico and canada is a massive fiscal drain. But that oil is mostly being used for transport, and while moving people into plug-in hybrids and mass transit will help, that isn’t where the core focus on green jobs seems to be. Making that connection will help sell the program.

  4. Bob Wallace says:

    At this particular moment green jobs seem to be directed at conservation and installing more renewable electricity sources.

    Those efforts will insure that we have more electricity available for the electric vehicles that are coming to the market during the next few years.

    To move from petroleum we need both appropriate vehicles and the clean energy to propel them. (And we need the grid/charging infrastructure to bring it all together.)

  5. Will says:

    Excellent. Thanks. Struck by this reconstruction: “our ability to prevent catastrophic global warming that will dramatically decrease our standard of living for 1000 years to come.”

  6. Elaine says:

    Joe, thank you for smoking out the rats. – ec

  7. Re Myth 4 (denialist talking point: green jobs hurt economic growth), this is the usual complaint of those with a vested interest in the status quo. Big business desperately wants to stifle innovation (“disruptive” technology), such as alternative energy, that would render their product obsolete. Stock price will not be helped by mandates for emissions control. Polluters have become accustomed to regarding a right to dump and waste as an entitlement — part of “free enterprise.”

    Re Myth 6 (denialist talking point: the free market is better than government mandates), this argument has been discredited by the last 20 years where Wall Street has owned our government. There is a role for the free market, but government must get involved. Consider SOx trading: a government mandate in response to the threat of acid rain created the free market for pollution credits. Now with CO2, the impetus for serious action must come from government. Leaving the initiative with the “free market” nothing would be done, because dumping is the cheapest waste disposal, and the free market worships cheap. The adulation of the concept of a free market ignores the reality that for all practical purposes the market is free only to multi-millionaires, and not to ordinary citizens and startups. Look what the “free market” has done to America’s manufacturing base.

    The denialist argument re Myth 7 appears to have some merit, though. Exhibit A: hydrogen cars. However, as President Obama demonstrates by his example, achievement begins with a wish, a sincere hope in support of a good cause. The wish must thereafter be sustained by persistence and hard study. The Green Team is long on sincerity and hope, but often short on the follow-through. Wishing is necessary, but not sufficient, for progress in solving global climate change.

  8. john pelley says:

    Green living is our only option. The greed of those who want quick profit and destroy our environment. Ignorance is no excuse today.

  9. Ken Chapel says:

    It is amazing the snow job the leftists/statists have done in claiming victory on the man-caused global warming debate and moved pall mall into the complete socialization of America with ‘cap and trade’ and selling to gullible Americans the false notion that there is ANYTHING close to replacing the energy generated by a gallon of gasoline/bbl of oil….

    the Giant Myth/Lie is that CO2 causes global warming when CO2 in the atmosphere is a ‘effect’ of solar caused global warming and not the ’cause’…

    the ‘green/global warming’ lie is merely a trojan horse to completely eliminate capitalism and replace it with an all-powerful central government in America that will align itself …for better or worse …with its admiring and applauding supporter..the EU

    [JR: Well argued! But you missed a few denier talking points.]

  10. Ron says:

    On global warming:

    I live in alaska, this has been the coldest winter we have had in 50 years, the statement is puere fraud. Global warming is a fraud.

    On green Energy:

    1. It wont work in Alaska, except maybe wind.
    2. wind Generation equipment is mostly made out of th ecountry, so that only leaves instalation jobs.
    3. Same thing for PV cells most are made in china, so it only leaves the low paying installation jobs.

    Nuclear is a far better solution in very small plants for remote villages etc.

    Until america takes to making things again there will be no high paying manufacturing jobs

  11. Flyoverman says:

    I read with interest that the “green jobs imperative rests on three legs.” Legs one and three are demonstrably false premises. I think there is a consensus on the second leg. However, we can take full advantage of our oil and coal reserves while other energy sources are developed.

    Carbon dioxide as a threat is laughable, especially in the amounts humans produce in proportion to natural processes. Further, the only factor with any correlation with variances in global temperatures is solar activity. I challenge anyone reading this to show a set of data that contradicts this. For a ten year period NASA confirmed that studied 9 plantarey and lunar bodies in the solar system. All shared the same temperature fluctuations.

    There is nothing wrong with “green energy” but given its current inefficiency, lack of surge capability, and required footprint, it is not even close to being a primary source of energy for a growing economy in the modern age. There is no need, nor is it responsible to abandon current means of power generation while they are still economically advantageous. Inexpensive energy in abundance is needed for a modern economy and a good quality of life.

    When anyone attempts to frighten you to action, your level of skepticism should increase. Too often this is a ploy to rush you to judgement.

  12. Tom says:

    always follow the dollar, when the push is so hard you will find someone is profiting.{al Gore}

  13. Erik says:

    I wish there had been a more thoughtful response to the first critique of Morriss, et. al. – that absent a clear definition of what a green job is (and how one actually can measure it) you get screwy studies like the US Conference of Mayor’s report. You can’t will green jobs into being. The only way this is going to work is constant policy experimentation. Should one mandate energy conservation standards and then use $$$ to subsidize the less afluent to help them pay for transition costs or spend the same $$ into renewal energy research? My guess is that both approaches are going to be experimented with. Absent a clear definition of how to measure the size of the green economy we really won’t be able to tell which is producing more economic growth. This post also didn’t take on another important point of Morriss et. al. – that there are substitution effects. At least in the short term, renewables WILL be more expensive than cheap carbon. As we spend more of a fixed $$$ to procure that energy it means less to spend elsewhere. Smart Green studies would acknowledge that…again, requiring a measurable definition of green jobs.