With all the upbeat talk about an environmental labor boom, is rhetoric running away from reality?
Someone help me puzzle this out:
Proposition 1: A shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency will result in a boom in green-collar jobs — good service-industry work that can’t be outsourced. This proposition is attractive because it holds forth the promise of a grand alliance between greens and the labor movement. See, e.g., Tom Friedman and everyone who posts on Grist.
Proposition 2: The optimism over green-collar jobs is a classic example of the make-work bias, a widespread economic fallacy that mistakes amount of work for wealth creation. The actual effect of greenhouse-gas reductions on labor markets is unclear, so environmentalists should stick to environmental policy. See, e.g., various environmental economists.
I don’t have a clever opinion here, although I will say that the case for a positive labor impact from energy efficiency measures seems decently solid. Efficiency is, after all, an unambiguously good thing for the economy as a whole. If it costs us less to get the same amount of stuff, we’re all richer. Certainly this is a nice thing for consumers, and because energy industries tend not to be labor-intensive, we can expect that wealth creation at the expense of energy producers will be a net benefit for employment as well. I think.
The impact of renewable energy, on the other hand, is more difficult to suss out. More to the point, it’s not clear that anyone has sussed it out. Discuss.