A Free-Market Energy Blog

Green Jobs: Is the Science “Settled” on This, Too?

By Robert Murphy -- January 19, 2009

When I passed around my critique of William Nordhaus’s case for a carbon tax, a typical complaint was that I wasn’t a climate scientist, and so I had no business saying that some of the IPCC projections were possibly biased towards the alarmist side.  Of course no one likes to be criticized, but I understood that it was a perfectly fair objection to raise.  As an economist, I really wasn’t qualified to cast aspersions on the models of Jim Hansen and such.

So it is with great amusement that I watch the extreme global-warming crowd react to minor expressions of doubt coming from their previous allies in the context of a “green recovery.”  Many economists who are completely sold on manmade climate change–and even think that it is important for the federal government to take quick action to curb the problem–are merely pointing out that the Obama Administration efforts to link this issue with the recession may be inefficient.  To repeat, they are NOT saying that the government should ignore global warming, or even that the government should ignore the unemployed.  All they are saying is that it might be foolish to try to design a single, magic bullet policy that solves both problems in one stroke (i.e., “Green Jobs”).

For this heresy, these green economists have had their heads bitten off by some of the loudest alarmists.  And some of the alarmists–most notably Joe Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress–have no qualms telling professional economists that they know nothing about job creation.  In fact, Romm thinks mainstream economists should drop out of the debate altogether, even though one might have thought policy issues like a carbon tax would involve both climate scientists and economists.

The poor guys over at Environmental Economics are taking heavy fire too, and again for the heresy of questioning whether the stimulus plan will create jobs.  To repeat, these two bloggers are professional economists, and they favor a carbon tax.  Yet when they raise practical concerns to make sure the policies deliver what they promise, many of the true believers will have none of it:  Here’s the best one, but also one, two, and three.  I think the environmental economists have seen how quickly they can be rejected once they simply raise concerns about the most effective way to enact environmental policies.

If professional climatologists want to say that people like me (though not Richard Lindzen!) have no business criticizing their models, that’s fine.  But by the same token, when my colleague and I issue a critique of “green job” studies, these same critics ought to keep their mouths shut, right?  (Note that I am not saying economists have a monopoly on economic truth–ha!  Far from it.  I am just making a point about the inconsistency in the rhetoric coming from the alarmists.)


  1. Tom Tanton  

    It is great to see a real discussion emerge on something I’ve been trying to point out for 3-4 years when this whole “greren jobs” blather started here in CA. It never ceases to amaze me the theoretical and philosophical inconsistency exhibited by green job advocates that “efficiency” in the use of energy is better than manna, yet efficiency in the use of labor or capital should be discarded. For those sure-to-comment that prices don’t include environmental externalties, I just want to point out ex-ante that those values HAVE been quantified, at least in California, and do not offset the price premium for those technologies favored by the interventionists. I admit, I’m not sure they use the technologies to justify intervention, or use intervention justify those technologies.


  2. TokyoTom  

    Bob, this isn’t really so hard to understand. Not only are many of those who would like to see climate change policies themselves bumbleheads on economics, but they are a front (many no doubt in good faith) for a whole class of rent-seekers who are looking for Obama to turn on the pork spigots.


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