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Should curbing emissions really be about green jobs?

American University is out with a study showing that the $2 billion of stimulus money that has gone to promoting American wind power has mostly found its way to overseas wind turbine makers. Cue the typical protectionist outrage about how, if we are to green the economy, we should make sure the jobs the effort creates stay here.

But as the American Enterprise Institute’s Ken Green argued to me recently, that road is dangerous. Among the reasons America buys wind turbines from abroad is that it is more cost efficient to produce them overseas; in order to satisfy the protectionists, Congress would have to make policy that effectively raised the cost of renewable energy by encouraging or mandating the purchase of more expensive, American-made equipment. Doing so only makes curbing emissions that much harder -- not to mention unpopular. And, by the way, it would also tempt a punishing trade war.

Whatever we do about global warming, we must not use the effort as a stealth reisolation of the American economy, pumping up a new sector that we then protect from world trade, effectively rolling back the progress we have made over the course of decades promoting more open markets. And if trading partners unfairly protect their goods, we should call them on it and find redress in the World Trade Organization; in that context, a careful, tailored policy response might be justified, too. It is no excuse for America to begin cheating at the outset of the effort, or on a larger scale, which helps neither the environment nor, in the long run, the American economy.

The more realistic -- and politically fraught -- way to view the AU study is that all of this talk of how global warming efforts are all about, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once put it, “jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs” is irresponsible. No one can really know the net-employment effects of, say, cap-and-trade legislation with much certainty. Maybe financing wind farms wasn’t the best way to stimulate the economy.

A former colleague of mine, now The Economist’s Lexington columnist, puts it well in the magazine’s latest issue as he discusses the Cantwell-Collins climate proposal (which, by the way, the Post’s editorial page talks up today):

[The bill] challenges the conventional wisdom in Washington, DC, that the only way to pass a global-warming bill is to disguise what’s in it. Leading Democrats try to sell cap-and-trade as a way to create jobs and wean America from its addiction to foreign oil….In real life, though, voters hear counter-arguments. Sure, cap-and-trade will create jobs, but it will destroy them, too. If the goal is to reduce dependence on foreign energy, why not mine more American coal? The only sound reason for acting to curb global warming is to curb global warming.

By Stephen Stromberg  | February 10, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

It seems to me that, if you try to make this primarily a global warming-related issue, there's enough skepticism about whether or not it's real that it makes things harder. Framing it as a jobs issue, AND as a way to increase our energy independence, is a better way of selling it. Besides, there's more to the harm of fossil fuels than just global warming - mountaintop mining for coal, and funding unfriendly leaders with oil.

Posted by: ravensfan20008 | February 10, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Green Jobs and Ham,
obam I am, obam;
wait
wait
wait

I am____

Posted by: simonsays1 | February 10, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

We have already seen how demand for ethanol for biofuels has led to increased production by unsustainable means that actually increased the greenhouse gas emmissions problem. Is producing windmills in China truly more efficient in the sense of thermodynamics? If we really examine curbing global warming for the sake of curbing global warming, we may be rethinking globalization and start re-localizing our economy. There is also little evidence from the economic experiments with globalization which have intensified over the last ten years that we have a greater degree of either economic or environmental sustainability as a result.

Posted by: AlexThuronyi1 | February 10, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

It's 3:25 pm. I'm supposed to interview for a job today. Someone with a foreign name is suppose to interview me, a natural born American citizen for a job. It's hard to find a place in the IT sector that isn't full of East Indians. These SOBs came over here and started working for next to nothing. They drove down the wages and have displace American born citizens from the workplace. I'd like to work. But, if I do, my tax dollars will go to support a nation that doesn't give daymn about me. Every other industrialized nation protects its citizens, but not the US, not under Reagan, not under Bush I, not under Clinton, not under W, and not under OBAMA.
Our country has put the screws to us and it's time to fight back.

It doesn't really matter anymore. This country has turned into a satellite of India. We'll give the top jobs to the outsiders, because they will keep lowering the wages to bare subsistence levels

Posted by: msmart2u | February 10, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

It's 3:25 pm. I'm supposed to interview for a job today.
-------------------------------------------
Hope the interview went well. I also hope that you left the attitude at the door. Will you be able to work with those East Indians if you get the job? I don't disagree with you about subsistence wages, by the way.

Posted by: swmuva | February 10, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Green jobs?

This has been a disaster.
Where is the money to train minds to figure out how to deal with the by product of nuclear plants that is stacking up around this Country????

How about actually building those lead lined repostiories in caves?

Posted by: dottydo | February 10, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

This article raises some good points about creating jobs. But linking job creation to controversial green industry is wrong. We don't have a centrally planned economy, like for instance China's economy. The primary role of our government in industry is to regulate, and set up protections from abuse of our precious environment.

For instance, if we did not monitor and regulate air quality and water quality, we would see more pollution similiar to what we see in China.

Government can do things to favor job creation, like provide tax credits, reduced taxes, or streamline projects. But de-regulation and de-criminalization are not "best practices." We have seen our share of corporate abuses of precious natural resources. Remember Exxon's oil spill in Alaska? Remember Enron's security fraud? Government has a role in job creation, but not by turning its back on innovation.

Industry will innovate if it is encouraged by Government.

Posted by: rmorris391 | February 10, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

FLASH!!

This Brand New Video Blows a Huge Gaping Hole in Obama's Cap and Tax Scheme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVm5-6H_sH4

Posted by: CommieBlaster | February 10, 2010 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I think the discussion of where the stimulus money was used and if it was used properly is vitally important. What is a big shame is that it set back the development of clean energy within the country. Instead of finding a common ground around trying to be free of foreign oil, we are now bickering about side issues. YES, some green industries are a flash in the pan. Not all of them, we should be very careful not to throw the baby our with the bath water. Let's start with a goal, less foreign oil, then talk about how we get there.

Thank you,

Ezra
GreenCareersGuide.com

Posted by: eco2020 | February 11, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

It wasn't an American University study. It was a "study" conducted by one reporter, who is not even officially connected to AU, or the Investigative project.

Posted by: chrismadison1 | February 11, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

This author is spot-on about this LIE: "Cap-and-trade will create jobs."

Curbing emissions may be a noble ambition, but don't sell it to me with this "jobs" crap.

Posted by: jboogie1 | February 11, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

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