"Green" job creation risks backfiring: Lomborg

OSLO Sun Feb 6, 2011 7:03pm EST

Construction workers fix solar panels for a new solar power plant near Olching-Esting west of Munich in this July 7, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/Files

Construction workers fix solar panels for a new solar power plant near Olching-Esting west of Munich in this July 7, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Michaela Rehle/Files

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OSLO (Reuters) - Investments to create new jobs in clean energies risk backfiring by curbing employment in other parts of the economy, a study commissioned by Danish "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg said on Monday.

The report also said that jobs in green energies were often based on over-optimistic projections of a fast shift from fossil fuels in coming decades toward cleaner sources such as wind, solar or hydro power.

"You can create jobs in clean energies but unfortunately it ends up at the cost of competitiveness elsewhere," Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, told Reuters of a 33-page study about "defining, measuring and predicting green jobs."

The author of 1998 book "The Skeptical Environmentalist," Lomborg said many governments had stopped stressing that climate change was a looming threat to the planet since a 2009 U.N. summit failed to agree a treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead, he said many leaders had shifted to a more down-to-earth argument that investment in green technologies helps create new jobs as part of a drive to avert more droughts, floods, heat waves and rising sea levels.

The study he commissioned, by economist Gurcan Gulen of the University of Texas at Austin, said that clean energy jobs often required hefty subsidies.

"Pushing aggressively to increase the share of these technologies, though clearly possible, will cost large sums of money and will increase (the) cost of energy to society, negatively impacting purchasing power, employment and GDP," Gulen wrote.

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Gulen said there were advantages to clean investments -- such as cutting air pollution and carbon emissions -- but that "adding 'net jobs' cannot be defended as another benefit."

And there was no common definition of green jobs nor of how to count them, a problem also noted by past reports such as a Worldwatch Institute study.

Gulen said that a farmer who grows rapeseed to produce biofuels in a shift from growing wheat, for instance, is not creating a net new job, only changing employment.

Or a train driver who transports furniture, for instance, should not be relabeled as a new green worker if a shift in client demand means his cargo becomes wind turbines.

"If you are going to use that kind of counting then pretty much everyone will be a green employee," Lomborg said.

Still, he said there were different grades of investments. Other studies have indicated that insulating buildings, for instance, can pay for itself in lower energy costs. Wind energy requires lower subsidies than solar power.

And there are big uncertainties. If nations impose a high price on carbon emissions, for instance, then long-term investments in green jobs make more economic sense.

For Reuters latest environment blogs, click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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Comments (3)
DrJJJJ wrote:
Lowering our national freeway limits 10% would do much more than all the green technologies combined this year!! Saves fuel, saves lives, it proven, cheap, fair and instant FYI! KISS! If it doesn’t pay for itself instantly, we should wait until we’ve balanced a budget or two somewhere on the planet!

Feb 07, 2011 12:59pm EST  --  Report as abuse
ptiffany wrote:
Although largely correct in itself, it misses a critical issue: the long-term cost of petroleum is increasing because world production has already peaked. Even near term costs of petroleum are increasing signficantly because of greatly increasing demand. Investing in alternative forms of energy is just a feeble attempt at getting ahead of the curve. Investing in a smart grid would also give us more choices over time.

And, of course, energy independence has huge potential cost savings as well as improving our national security. This alone is more than enough to justify long-term subsidies for alternative sources of energy.

Feb 08, 2011 3:30pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Regular folks will find it expensive to switch to solar energy upfront. There’s no denying the benefits of having solar panels on the roof of a house to run it in place of electricity. Yes, homeowners can sell the excess generated by the panel system back to the electric company–eventually.

We priced it for our 2500 sq. ft. house in PA and we would have to pay about $70,000 out of pocket, upfront, for the installation. The return on investment was 5 to 7 years. Once we found this out, my question was, “how in the world is the average homeowner going to be able to afford this?” Needless to say, we opted not to go solar at this time. “Green” sounds ideal until you find out how much it costs.

Feb 08, 2011 3:39pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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