Uninspiring Energy Ideas


Today’s Wall Street Journal has a piece (sub. req.) on Obama’s promise of 5 million “green jobs” if we invest $150 billion over the next decade. A couple of noteworthy items (with my own emphasis added):

The job creation number cited by Mr. Obama has its roots in several green-jobs studies. Each projected different numbers, because each made different assumptions — for instance, about the number of additional jobs that would be created by the spending of every person directly employed in a green job. Robert Pollin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who co-wrote another study, questions the job target touted by the Obama campaign, saying it would cost much more. Mr. Pollin’s study, sponsored by the Center for American Progress, came out in September, after green jobs had become a theme on the presidential campaign trail. It said that $100 billion spent over two years could produce two million green jobs. Even Mr. Pollin’s study assessed only the number of jobs that might be added if the government spent more money on clean energy. It didn’t count jobs that might be lost elsewhere in the economy if the country shifted to costlier sources of energy.

It should go without saying that what is important is the net employment gain/loss and the net GDP gain/loss. What happens to the economy when we start shutting down coal-fired power plants and not building new ones? When we turn our backs on the conventional power sources that power most of our energy needs?

The Apollo Alliance, a San Francisco coalition of environmental and labor groups, also released a study in September. It concluded that five million green jobs could be had with an investment of $500 billion — more than three times Mr. Obama’s number. Kate Gordon, co-director of the Apollo Alliance, says the numbers are less important than the message. “Honestly,” she says, “it’s just to inspire people.”

You gotta love that. Don’t worry about the numbers. Don’t worry about how much these plans will cost taxpayers. Don’t worry about jobs or the economy. Just be inspired.

Reminds of me of something I’ve posted before: Davis Guggenheim, director of An Inconvenient Truth, said of carbon offsets, “All of us knew when doing offsets that the theoretical and symbolic quality to doing this is as important as the practical quality.”

Come to think of it, this also reminds me of the entire Obama campaign. Symbolism. Inspiring, if empty, rhetoric. But now isn’t the time for feel-good stump speeches. The campaign is over. This isn’t practice. And yet the same vacuous campaign rhetoric is offered up as an actual legislative proposal — or worse yet, an executive mandate. Hope only gets you so far — and not every change turns out well. We need to make smart decisions about our energy security to ensure that the lights stay on, and that we don’t go broke in the process.


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