Green Jobs Growth Claims Challenged Again

Will cleantech, with the help of government policies and investments, spin off huge numbers of high-paying green jobs that will drive economic growth in the decades ahead? Maybe, maybe not – but the question itself seems to be creating a lot of work for intellectuals.

The latest scholarly take on the question, from “Skeptical Environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC), concludes that the state of the science on green jobs is poor, making it difficult to accept optimistic claims offered in support of pro-cleantech policies. In fact, the report says, “the number of jobs that these policies create is likely to be offset – or worse – by the number of jobs that they destroy.”

green jobs study, Copenhagen Consensus Center

image via St. Francis University

This is a common theme among conservative and libertarian economists: a recent American Enterprise Institute paper made a similar point. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, the pro-environment coalition Ceres in the last month put out a report that claims tighter federal regulations on greenhouse-gas emissions will spur massive investment in pollution controls and new generating capacity, leading to 1.46 million new jobs in five years.

The CCC paper, written by University of Texas energy economist Gürcan Gülen, takes a close look at studies that promote the job-creating power of cleantech investment and finds them wanting on a number of counts. Gülen says these studies often fold temporary construction jobs into their totals. He says they rarely back up claims that cleantech jobs will pay more than positions in conventional energy production. Plus, he asks: What is a green job? He notes that even the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has written, “There is no widely accepted standard definition of ‘green jobs,’’’ again leading to overstated claims.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Gülen argues that most green-job studies fail to account for the higher energy costs that come with nonmarket-based moves to renewable energy. “Increasing the cost of electricity and fuel will hurt productivity, reduce overall employment, and cut the amount of disposable income that people have,” CCC says in their summary of the report. “Once these effects are taken into account, the purported increase in jobs is typically wiped out, and some economic models show lower overall employment.”

A PDF of the CCC report is available online here.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.