by Steve Murphy | Posted May 30, 2014
The Internet is awash with websites promoting green jobs. Unlike regular jobs, green jobs are socially and environmentally responsible. And they are more rewarding and fulfilling. They give the green-collar worker a sense of belonging to something greater than himself. As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama promised five million high paying green jobs. To green advocates, these jobs have helped implement the green recovery from the "Great Recession." Many tens of millions more will be created to build a new Green Economy that will bring social justice, environmental harmony, and sustainable prosperity to America.
As the Green Economy emerges, our entire infrastructure must be modernized, to bring our systems of agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, education, housing, and so forth into a mellifluous alignment with nature. According to Bright Green Talent, one of numerous companies established to help the green collar crowd, "we have to change everything — the way we live, the way we work, the way we eat, the way we travel, the way we make things." For those eager to begin green careers, it's "a wonderful time to get a green job or become a green entrepreneur." There's no time like the present to prepare for challenges ahead, such as "species extinction, deforestation, sea pollution, desertification, topsoil reduction, and freshwater depletion." And what could be more rewarding and fulfilling than a pat on the back from humanity for staving off "ecological collapse, major conflict, famine, drought, and economic depression"?
Under the new BLS definition, many coal miners, loggers, bus drivers, iron workers, bike-repair shop clerks, and used-record store employees have green jobs.
But back in the real world, there is a problem. Despite a few years of rapid growth in wind-and solar-generated electricity, there is no demand for green jobs. The ambitious, profligate schemes to create a green economy have gone awry. Sustainability is stagnation, even in the green world.
In his 2012 reelection bid, President Obama boasted about his record of creating 2.7 million green jobs, with many more on the way — ostensibly the result of his $90 billion clean-energy stimulus. In reality, it was the result of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) redefining a green job as any employment with an environmental benefit. Under the new BLS definition, many coal miners, loggers, bus drivers, iron workers, bike-repair shop clerks, and used-record store employees have green jobs.
Based on direct-employment data, however, only 140,000 actual green jobs existed when Mr. Obama was touting 2.7 million. This paltry number included the 910 direct jobs in the solar and wind energy industries that were created by the stimulus program (at a cost to taxpayers of $9.8 million per job). But it also included green jobs that existed before Obama took office. That is, even 140,000 was a gross overstatement. In examining the president's shamelessly deceptive claims, Reason magazine discovered both the paucity and the vapidity of green jobs, and provided a more accurate characterization of our emerging Green Economy:
Surprisingly, the top sector for clean jobs was not installing sleek new solar panels or manufacturing electric cars, but “waste management and treatment” (386,000 jobs). In other words, trash collectors. Rounding out the rest of the top four were “mass public transit” (350,000 jobs), conservation (315,000), and “regulation and compliance,” i.e., government employees (141,000). Should the 21st Century economy really depend on hiring more trash collectors, bus drivers, and bureaucrats?
The growth in legitimate green jobs was embarrassingly grim, even in industries such as solar and wind that had experienced significant growth in installation capacity. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2012, after two years of a "ninefold increase in solar power . . . solar employment had increased just 28%." In 2008, the wind industry employed about 85,000; by 2012, it employed about 81,000 — a decline of almost 5%.
Today, millions of Americans would be thrilled to land a job producing planet-healers such as solar panels, windmills, or batteries. Unfortunately, most of those jobs have moved to places such as China, where the cost of labor for producing the products is $1.74 per hour — compared to $35.53 per hour for American manufacturers. Thanks to green economists, who didn't think that an enormous labor cost differential would matter, American taxpayers blew $90 billion to create a green manufacturing boom in China, and now pay subsidies to homeowners and businesses to buy China's green products — green sustainability to the geniuses in Washington DC.
True, the present glut of cheap foreign solar panels has benefited many American consumers, as have the generous tax-funded subsidies. And, in recent years, solar panel installation jobs have increased by 20% annually. These jobs, however, pay on average less than $38,000 a year — compared with $52,400 a year, the average pay for manufacturing jobs. On the bright side, installers can think of the $14,400 difference as psychic income, derived from their being socially and environmentally responsible.
Thanks to green economists, who didn't think that an enormous labor cost differential would matter, American taxpayers blew $90 billion to create a green manufacturing boom in China.
Central planners have pushed the green revolution to new heights of crony capitalism — and irony. America's subsidized solar-panel manufacturing industry is unhappy with China's subsidized solar-panel manufacturing industry. Consequently, the US division of solar-panel maker SolarWorld AG, a German-owned firm, is lobbying Congress for protection. But America's subsidized installation industry is happy with cheap Chinese solar panels. In this skirmish, notes a recent Slate article, “The World’s Dumbest Trade War”: "one side is wearing an American flag over a German flag, and the other has an American flag draped over a Chinese flag."
Immense subsidies to bring us together in a cause greater than ourselves have, instead, brought the world’s top economic powers to "the brink of a trade war that could cripple a promising industry in both countries, kill jobs, and hurt the environment all at once. It’s a terrible trade-policy trifecta." So much for environmental harmony.
And where's the environmental harmony for our birds and tortoises? Birds crashing into solar panels (or plummeting to their deaths after having their wings "reduced to a web of charred spines" by solar mirrors) are not good for the green image. Nor are dead desert tortoises, whose habitat has been disrupted by tediously sprawling solar farms. And gangly wind farms are worse, swatting more than a half million birds to death annually, including the iconic bald eagle.
After almost six years of throwing billions of taxpayer money at anything green, the excitement is over. Large-scale renewable energy has slowed to a feeble crawl, if not a morbid decline. Of the 365 federal applications for solar facilities since 2009, only twenty are on track to be built; only three large-scale plants are operational. Solar companies are going broke, and projects are being cancelled. Solar energy remains uncompetitive and, for all of the hoopla, contributes less than one half of 1% to the nation's power supply. Declining subsidies (the current 30% investment tax credit, for example, will drop to 10% in 2016) and increasing environmental costs (consider, for instance, the BrightSource Energy solar farm in California's Ivanpah Valley, which has already spent over $56 million relocating tortoises) are driving investors away. The wholesale blade-kill slaughter of birds has jeopardized the wind energy industry's annual subsidy ($12 billion in 2013).
Some green job promoters may be thinking, "Well, at least things can't get any worse." If so, they are wrong. The lawsuits are starting. There's nothing like a lawsuit to increase project costs, scare off financial backers, and kill green jobs. Recently, the Justice Department (taking time from its hectic fossil fuel lawsuit schedule) brought charges against a Wyoming wind farm that had been killing golden eagles, and won. The victory was small (a puny $1 million fine) but ominous. On its heels, the American Bird Conservancy announced plans to sue the Interior Department over eagle-kill permits that authorize windmill companies to "kill and harm bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty." This is bad news for green job seekers, and for bird hunters, who could apparently get a 30-year permit instead of an annual license. Bird hunter to Fish and Wildlife clerk: "Yeah, I'll have one of those eagle-kill permits, you know, for my windmill."
Five years of "sustainability" have brought stagnation, even to the green economy.
The EPA has spent over $50 million on 237 green job training programs. Of the 12,800 people trained, 9,100 obtained green jobs — at a cost to taxpayers of $5,500 per job. The Department of Energy has spent $26 billion on green energy loan programs that created 2,308 permanent jobs — at a cost to taxpayers of $11.25 million per job. Evidently, none of the employees works on the 20 million acres of federal land that the Obama administration has made available to renewable developers. Last October, in the first auction of this land for solar development, not a single bid was made. However, some of them may work on the millions of acres that Obama has denied to fossil fuel developers, where they search for reasons to suppress fracking. Yet fracking (on private lands) has created 360,000 jobs, at a cost to taxpayers of $0 per job, while reducing America's energy costs by $100 billion and carbon emissions by 300 million tons.
By 2012, fewer than 140,000 (of the five million promised) green jobs had been created, and these at an enormous cost to taxpayers. The number of legitimate new green jobs available today is anyone's guess. But green job seekers might want to dust off their brown resumes. A search at Bright Green Talent returned 14 green jobs — in the entire country. Damn that “talent” requirement! A similar search at Great Green Careers was more promising, returning 196 openings. But only four of them were full-time positions — in the entire country. Perhaps the other 192 companies were using the 29.5 hour work week Obamacare work-around.
Today, five years after the Great Recession, the general economy continues to stagnate. Economic growth has been stifled by feckless healthcare, energy, and financial reform policies. Despite incessant claims of job growth, jobs have been lost. The labor participation rate (the percent of the working-age population that is working) — the most accurate, and the only unambiguous, measure of employment — has dropped from 66 to 63% during the so-called recovery. And, despite equally incessant claims that we need more of them, there is no demand for green jobs. Five years of "sustainability" have brought stagnation, even to the green economy: shrinking profits, decreasing subsidies, project delays and cancellations, lawsuits, an imminent trade war, and widespread tortoise and bird carnage.
Nevertheless, earlier this month, at a California Walmart, President Obama proclaimed, "We’re going to support training programs at community colleges across the country that will help 50,000 workers earn the skills that solar companies are looking for right now.” That would be bird carcass removers and tortoise herders.
Steve Murphy is a retired missile defense systems engineer and software developer living on top of Green Mountain in Huntsville AL, where he does a little consulting, plays the stock market and writes — mostly about economics, science, and American life. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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