Chicago Green Jobs

Oil Companies Hate Green Jobs So, So Much
March 20, 2009, 5:14 am
Filed under: Green Job Research

Let the backlash begin! After a spate of reports full of glowing predictions that investing in green and renewable energy will produce a bonanza of jobs, we’re starting to get the “Hold Your Horses” studies.

My personal favorite is the memorably titled “Seven Myths About Green Jobs” by a team of researchers headed up by Andrew Moriss, a University of Illinois professor. The study’s central premise is that the methodology used in green jobs reports published by a range of organizations, including the United Nations Environmental Program and the Center for American Progress, is suspect and based on “dubious assumptions.” But how do the arguments and assertions in this report hold up to scrutiny? Not so well.

First things first – who paid for this study? According to this News Gazette piece, a noble org called the Institute for Energy Research put up a sizable chunk of change. Their board of directors is a potpourri of oil execs and right wing policy wonks, and their issues include drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, expanding offshore drilling, and promoting a “free market,” or “non-existent,” approach to climate change. I think we can expect the IER to have bias towards the oil and coal based status quo.

It appears that this bias has carried over into the report, because there are some pretty outstanding leaps of logic scattered in the seven “myths.” My favorite “dubious assumptions” in this report are after the jump.

Let’s have some fun with strawmen! First up, we have Myth #4: “Green jobs promote employment growth.” Here’s the report’s retort:

“By promoting more jobs instead of more productivity, the green jobs described in the literature encourage low-paying jobs in less desirable conditions. Economic growth cannot be ordered by Congress or by the United Nations. Government interference – such as restricting successful technologies in favor of speculative technologies favored by special interests – will generate stagnation.”

Nothing about this answer makes the slightest shred of sense. The writers are setting up a false dichotomy between promoting jobs and promoting productivity.  Keep in mind, Obama’s primary goal is to grow a smarter, more sustainable energy system, and growing a new industry with new jobs is a welcome bonus.  And of course, governments absolutely CAN create economic growth. In fact, most economists agree that governments are one of the last remaining institutions that can drive economic growth in a downturn of this magnitude.

How about Myth #6: “Government mandates are a substitute for free markets.” Here is the report’s retort:

“Reality: Companies react more swiftly and efficiently to the demands of their customers and markets, than to cumbersome government mandates.”

Ah yes – oil, gas and coal companies have certainly flourished like green bay trees in this much-vaunted free market. Of course, the tens of billions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government help. It’s hard to nail down an exact dollar number of the benefits our pals in the oil and coal biz get each year, but the Government Accountability Office estimated direct benefits in 2005 at $3.6 billion per year – and once you add in research and other incentives it may total closer to $39 billion each year. And corporations sure are doing a great job responding to customer concerns about the economy these days too!

In all fairness, one of the seven myths is correct. Myth #1: Everyone understands what a green job is. The report’s retort is “No standard definition of a green job exists.” This is absolutely correct, and it’s a problem that must be fixed. However, the rest of the report is essentially just a bunch of tired old ideological positions that so-called free market conservatives have been peddling for years. The backers of this report are smart enough to see that this time around the push for renewable energy has been linked to the prospect of creating new jobs.  Their best bet for maintaining a favorable status quo is to try to sever that link. Expect to see more studies like this one making the rounds.

UPDATE: More coverage here.


5 Comments so far
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“…technologies favored by special interests” that “will generate stagnation?” It sounds like they are talking about oil companies!!! What a load of crap…

Comment by David G. McQuown

Agreed. The report is really pretty insulting when you get right into it. As far as I can tell, the authors aren’t even trying for clarity and rigor – they’re just patching together a bunch of strawmen and knocking them down. For example:

“The sweeping changes advocated in these reports under the guise of greening our economy are intended to shift the American and world economies away from decentralized decision making, in favor of centralized planning.”

Centralized planning? Really? Statements like this signal that the authors just aren’t serious.

Comment by Kate Eyler-Werve

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