Green Jobs DeMystified

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Are green jobs good for the economy? Four economics and law professors argue otherwise in a paper entitled “7 Myths About Green Jobs.”

“Underlying much of the green jobs literature is a deep hostility to free market societies that favor voluntary and decentralized decision-making and a preference for centrally-directed programs built on mandates,” they argue, later adding, “Nothing better captures the contempt for for ordinary people that is rampant in the green jobs literature than the [United Nations Environmental Programme] UNEP report’s suggestion that rickshaws could become a significant form of transportation in a green economy.”

Andrew P. Morriss, who is affiliated with the University of Illinois and George Washington University; William T. Bogart of York College; Andrew Dorchak of Case Western Reserve University; and Roger E. Meinersof the University of Texas at Arlington all criticize the green jobs literature for:

• Failing to use a standard definition of what constitutes “green” energy;

• Preferring certain technologies (wind, solar, etc.) above others (nuclear, coal) for political rather than environmental reasons; and

• Promoting labor inefficiencies which, they assert, will eventually reduce society’s standard of living.

The Executive Summary of the UNEP report, entitled “Green Jobs: Toward a Decent Work in a Sustainable, Low-Carbon World,” states that:

“Hundreds of millions of people in developing countries suffer from insufficient mobility. They may never be able to afford an automobile, and may not even have access to public transit. Yet, bicycles and modern bicycle rickshaws offer a sustainable alternative and create employment in manufacturing and transportation services. Nevertheless, their growing essential mobility needs must be met, and this will require the development of innovative approaches that should also generate new employment opportunities” (emphasis added).”

In India, an earlier UNEP report stated, “The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) has helped introduce modern bicycle rickshaws in India,” numbers of which have “grown from 20,000 in 2003 to more than 300,000 today [2007].”

“According to a survey, these changes have led to increased incomes of 20-50 percent because rickshaw operators were physically able to work longer, and improved comfort and safety attracted new passengers, including some who previously rode highly polluting motorized rickshaws,” stated the 2007 preliminary report. “Not only do the livelihoods of operators improve, but manufacturing the modernized rickshaw in India may open new green job opportunities.”

Another company, Envirofit, helps retrofit the two-stroke engines used in many developing countries, after which “fuel consumption is reduced by 35–50 percent and emissions of air pollutants are cut by as much as 90 percent.” Non-retrofitted two-step engines “can emit as much pollution as 50 modern automobiles,” states the 2007 report.

The 2007 UNEP preliminary report portrayed non-motorized transport as a “quintessentially green” fix for impoverished nations. “Non-motorized transport modes have the unfortunate distinction of being overlooked by most traffic planners and economists,” it stated.

“For short distances, they are an easy and non-polluting, quintessentially green, mode of transport,” it states.

In other words, the new bicycle technology is “green” (and therefore good) because it increases productivity and human standards of living, but motorized rickshaws aren’t because they burn fuel, no matter how efficient the engine gets.

The four professors argue that the answer to environmental pollution is not mandates, but precisely the method which many green jobs advocates disfavor: the free market.

Morriss, Bogart, Dorchak, and Meiners argue that technological progress will result in greater energy efficiency over time without mandates because “energy efficiency occurs naturally as a result of market processes even without forced taxpayer support.”

“Compared to 1900, each unit of energy input in 2000 could provide four times as much useful heat, move a person 550 times farther, provide 50 times more illumination, and produce 12 times as much electricity,” they write.

They argue that green jobs estimates are often erroneous or ignore basic economic principles. “The second major problem with the green jobs literature is that it consistently counts jobs that do not produce useful outputs as a benefit of spending programs rather than as a cost,” they write, criticizing “green” proposals produced by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES), the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Center for American Progress (CAP) and UNEP.

“For example,” they write, “the [U.S. Conference of Mayors] report labels as green ‘government administration of environmental programs, and supporting jobs in the engineering, legal, research and consulting fields.’ Another estimate of green jobs found that the single biggest increases from green programs were secretarial positions; management analysts; then bookkeepers; followed by janitors.”

Of course, more regulations and more paperwork might just lead to more carbon in the air and fewer trees.

Hence another example pointed out by the authors:

For example, in 1991, before St. Louis built its light-rail-system, its buses averaged more than 10 riders and consumed 4,600 BTUs per passenger-mile. After the light-rail line opened, average bus loads in 1995 declined to 7 riders and energy consumed per passenger-mile increased to 5,300 BTUs. CO2 emissions increased from 0.75 pounds to 0.88 pounds per passenger-mile. Similarly, energy and CO2 performance also deteriorated for Sacramento after rail transit was implemented.”

Also, they write, “Portland’s North Interstate light-rail line is estimated to save about 23 billion BTUs per year while its construction is estimated to consume 3.9 trillion BTUs.”

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.