How Green Jobs Hurt the Environment

The problem with promising “green jobs” is that the promise is both anti-green and anti-jobs.

Columns From: 4/8/2010 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

Peter Zelinski

“Green jobs” is a phrase that’s hard to avoid lately. Government promises that its alternative energy policies will bring green jobs. However, how can the ones making those promises ensure that the jobs will go to Americans? After all, solar panels could be made somewhere else. Wind turbines could be installed by technicians from another country. No, the only real way to promise American green jobs is to discourage the other possibilities—through either subsidies or rules favoring Americans. When you hear “green jobs,” you should naturally think “protectionism.”

Such protections might be good or bad. Set that question aside for a bit—the phrase “green jobs” is sad for an entirely separate reason.

Jobs, without qualification, ought to be our goal. To make “green” jobs the focus is to decide that steel gray jobs and electric blue jobs are not worth the bother. In the way that jobs of the wrong color are neglected or starved, the green jobs might not entail any net job creation at all.

But then there is the way that the promise of green jobs actually trashes its own premise. Green jobs aren’t just anti-job, they are anti-green—
for reasons related to the protectionism.

American employees can win in unprotected markets. However, they don’t necessarily win (as this audience knows). That is why assuring American jobs has to entail protections. And protections automatically increase costs.

This much is indisputable. You or I might favor U.S. protectionism in certain contexts. Even among advocates, though, the very point of protectionism is that we pay more (in prices or taxes) for the value of seeing the money go to Americans.

Now contrast that with the premise of alternative energy. The green assumption says our environment is in peril. It says our reliance on foreign oil can be answered with wind and solar power. If these premises are true, and if they are urgent, then we ought to favor the lowest-price suppliers now—because that would let us solve more of the problem today with the money we have. Instead, by raising the cost of alternative energy through the demand for U.S. green jobs, we impede alternative energy’s adoption. Green jobs actually keep the environment imperiled!

Personally, I do not hold to the imperilment premise. Yet if we are intent on going green, so be it. At the very least, frugal use of resources does strike me as a reasonable goal.

More importantly, though, let us have jobs. Jobs of any color!

Going green and encouraging jobs are two different things. They don’t fit together, as much as politicians say otherwise. When politicians try to fuse them with the promise of “green jobs,” the result is a muddle, if not an outright lie.
 

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