Green-Collar Jobs – Or Con Jobs?

Commentary, Energy, Paul Driessen

The quest to be “green” has spawned proposals, programs, laws and ad campaigns. In many cities, “green jobs advisory councils” promote policies for energy efficiency, renewable energy, infrastructure and lower carbon emissions.

Better sequencing of traffic lights speeds commuters to their workplaces, saves gasoline, cuts pollution, and reduces accidents. Better insulation reduces energy expenditures – and pays back investments in several years. Energy-efficient computers and servers mean big savings in power-hungry data centers that facilitate banking, YouTube, Internet searches and modern business operations.

Such initiatives also create “green-collar jobs.” Indeed, claims a 2007 report from the American Solar Energy Society, renewable energy and energy efficiency (RE&EE) industries already generate 8.5 million jobs in the United States, and could create “as many as 40 million jobs by 2030.”

That may happen, or may be wishful thinking. It depends on how terms are defined – and whether hype and hope are separated from reality, practicality and unintended consequences.

The ASES report includes direct and indirect employment associated with retrofitting buildings, installing insulation or solar panels, constructing transmission lines from wind farms, producing biofuels and fuel-efficient vehicles, designing and manufacturing supplies for projects – even accountants, lawyers, salesmen, repairmen, truck drivers, landscapers, bureaucrats and lobbyists.

Many projects represent sound economics. Others would not survive without mandates, renewable energy standards and taxpayer-financed subsidies. Plus, money spent on green-collar initiatives isn’t available to address critical problems like unwed mothers, crime, AIDS, drug abuse, failing schools, soaring gasoline and heating bills, or dilapidated apartment buildings and roads.

Some opportunities are more myth than fact. Solar panels to heat water or generate electricity have maximum 30-year lifetimes – but require a century of energy savings to equal installation costs, says the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Ethanol requires huge amounts of land, water and natural gas, to replace a tiny portion of our gasoline demand with an expensive fuel that drives up the cost of food and gets cars 10% less mileage per tank.

Compressed natural gas vehicles represent only 120,000 of America’s 235,000,000 cars and light trucks. Honda’s CNG-powered Civic costs $7000 more than the regular model, but has half the range. Converting an existing vehicle to run on CNG costs $3000. And opposition to drilling means increasing demand for natural gas will send prices still higher.

An even bigger problem with the green-collar vision is its ultimate goal: ending our “addiction” to fossil fuels and mandating “sustainable,” hydrocarbon-free lifestyles. This agenda is promoted by politicians and the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of environmentalists, labor unions, civic groups and companies that want the United States to run only on conservation, efficiency and “clean energy,” through government control of energy and economic decisions.

The agenda covers every conceivable facet of our homes, businesses, infrastructure and lives. Its consequences – good and bad, intended and unintended – would affect every sector of society.
Fossil fuels provide 85% of all the energy Americans use; nuclear power an additional 8 percent. Wind and solar produce a minuscule 0.5% of total US energy.

Conservation, efficiency and renewables will not bridge this enormous energy gap, certainly not in one decade and probably not in four. To decimate the energy system we have – and claim we can replace it with technologies that don’t yet exist – is delusional and irresponsible.

Creating millions of green-collar jobs, via legislative mandates and taxpayer-funded subsidies, will require trillions of dollars to dismantle an existing infrastructure that works – and replace it with one that is mostly experimental. It will affect tens of millions of direct and indirect jobs that depend on abundant, reliable, affordable energy from hydrocarbon and nuclear power.

Yet, not once have renewable energy proponents explained where that money will come from, or how they will compensate workers, families, business owners, investors and pensioners whose interests will be impacted. Nor do they address current energy needs or other troubling questions.

Many union leaders nevertheless support the anti-energy agenda. Some see mandates and subsidies as a way to expand the ranks of government and service sector jobs, or retool some blue collar jobs to RE&EE substitutes. Others want to replenish under-funded union pension plans with revenues from taxpayer-funded renewable energy and efficiency projects.

The California public employees and teachers unions face significant pension shortfalls. The Service Employees International Union pension plan covers its officers completely, but is only 75% funded for rank-and-file workers. Their advocacy of renewables and efficiency raises serious conflict-of-interest questions.

We need more green-collar jobs. But we also need to safeguard existing jobs – and avoid killing the energy we have, before we develop the “new energy” that some keep promising. Otherwise, millions will freeze hungry and jobless in the dark.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality, a member of the board of scholars of DC Progress, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death.