The False Promise of Green Jobs

COPENHAGEN – Political rhetoric has shifted away from the need to respond to the “generational challenge” of climate change. Investment in alternative energy technologies like solar and wind is no longer peddled on environmental grounds. Instead, we are being told of the purported economic payoffs, above all, the promise of so-called “green jobs.” Unfortunately, that does not measure up to economic reality.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center asked Gürcan Gülen, a senior energy economist at the Center for Energy Economics, Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, to assess the “state of the science” in defining, measuring, and predicting the creation of green jobs. Gülen concluded that job creation “cannot be defended as another benefit” of well-meaning green policies. In fact, the number of jobs that these policies create is likely to be offset – or worse – by the number of jobs that they destroy.

On the face of it, green-job creation seems straightforward. Deploying more wind turbines and solar panels creates a need for more builders, technicians, tradespeople, and specialist employees. Voilà: simply by investing in green policies, we have not only helped the climate, but also lowered unemployment. Indeed, this is the essence of many studies that politicians are eagerly citing. So what did those analyses get wrong?

In some cases, Gülen finds that proponents of green jobs have not distinguished between construction jobs (building the wind turbines), which are temporary, and longer-term operational jobs (keeping the wind turbines going), which are more permanent. Moreover, sometimes advocates have assumed, without justification, that the new jobs would pay more than careers in conventional energy.