21 October 2008

Results of adopting green tech are uncertain, but we should still do it

in my recent editorial, I made a big deal about how new technologies in energy production and conservation represent an economic opportunity for someone -- maybe for the LBM trades and those who supply them. Lately, both presidential campaigns have been making similar points, especially that green tech means new jobs.

McCain says: "A rough estimate is that 45 new nuclear power plants will create roughly 700,000 jobs - jobs in construction, engineering, operation and maintenance."

Obama says: "Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future."

But I read an interesting post by Brian Beutler that threw some cold water on that whole idea:
Are liberals and environmentalists being honest when they say green jobs will offset the jobs lost when the fossil fuel industry is forced to downsize, and, if so, why are labor leaders so reluctant to support climate change policies? My own view on this is that it's an extremely narrow, hazy, and unanswerable question. Nobody really knows what sorts of advancements investment in alternative energy projects will yield in the coming years, or how labor intensive the production of a kilowatt-hour will prove to be a decade or five from now.

I think that's a good point -- we really don't know what the effect of switching away from dirty energy will be. But that is still no reason to shirk from embracing it, since we can be sure that the costs of inaction will be too high. Beutler goes on to say much the same thing -- that there may also be secondary benefits to the economy at large in a switchover, as evidenced by the smaller scale transitions already underway:
But by the same token it's also hard to imagine, in a national sense, that the beneficial primary and secondary economic effects of, say, a comprehensive climate change policy, won't be on the same order as (and largely opposite to) the negative consequences.

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