A term used in a reckless manner to describe such wide-ranging modes of employment that the expression may have lost its meaning before it even had one.
There’s been so much talk about “green jobs” in recent years that few could fault you if you turned a little green when the term was used. President Barack Obama frequently uses the expression, as does Van Jones, the White House Special Advisor on Green Jobs. Jones, who founded a green jobs advocacy group called Green for All, even organized a “National Day of Action” for green jobs under the banner “Green Jobs Now!”
The media is complicit, too – this publication included. Several weeks ago we asked readers to define “green job.” The response was rather underwhelming; in fact, there was only one rejoinder, from Torrey A. Babson, a Pittsburg-based “Economic Architect” for a sustainability consulting firm called GSP Consulting, Inc. I’ll address his e-mail later, but I think the limited response could indicate several things.
It might suggest that no one reads our “Green Space” section, but I find that very thought to be preposterous and obvious malarkey. It more likely suggests that our many, many readers – and, by obvious extension, the whole of humanity – find that defining “green job” is a difficult and confusing process.
Andrew P. Morriss, et al., would agree. In a March research paper titled “7 Myths About Green Jobs,” Morriss and three others (all professors of law or economics, or both) pick the lack of consistent definition of “green job” as their first myth: “According to the studies most commonly quoted, green jobs pay well, are interesting to do, produce products that environmental groups prefer, and do so in a unionized workplace. Such criteria have little to do with the environmental impacts of the jobs.”
I should note that if you read the entire report you’ll quickly conclude that Morriss and friends are whack-jobs. For instance, they describe the U.N. Environmental Programme (or UNEP, which published one of the four studies they describe as “commonly quoted”) only as a group “representing international organizations hostile to open or free markets.” This contempt for the U.N. extends generally to the green movement as a whole, which they seem to think of as a plot by the Invisible Hand of the New World Order, in conjunction with left-wing think tanks, to institute a communist world government with the help of unionized abortionists.
Despite that, Morriss and his comrades aren’t wrong about everything (and they’re generally right about the unions). They compare a definition of “green job” from an Oct. 2008 report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Current and Potential Green Jobs in the U.S. Economy,” with the definition from Sept. 2008 UNEP report, titled “Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world”. For the most part, the definitions are very similar. They both include generation of energy from renewable sources, construction and installation of energy-efficient systems, environmentally-friendlier agricultural and manufacturing jobs, and administrative and support jobs as “green jobs.” But Morriss, et al. do note that the UNEP report excludes nuclear power and even some recycling jobs from their explanations.
Now is a good time to cite Babson’s e-mail. He raised an issue that Morriss & company also raised: “The real meat of issues surrounding green jobs are in the life cycle of a product, or the relative ‘greenness’ of a particular occupation,” Babson wrote. “For instance there has been a lot of focus on making blue-collar jobs green (i.e. steel workers can now produce wind turbines instead of dirty things, etc.) the [sic] problem in measurement is that there are actually a really small percentage of steel workers who make green products.” If steel production is not a “green” process, is the same process used to produce a wind turbine a “green job”?
The answer is yes. Though the process remains unchanged, the end product has the potential to lower use of pollution-producing fossil fuels. Vice President Joe Biden’s succinct definition of “green jobs,” given as part of a Middle Class Task Force video address, seems to include that sort of occupation: “Green jobs are jobs that provide products and services which use renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, conserve energy and also reconstitute waste.”
What’s interesting about Biden’s definition is that it fails to explicitly include support jobs — administration, legal services, government — that might contribute something intangible but nevertheless helps “green” some process, product, or service. Babson also addressed this issue in his e-mail. He noted that the media often focuses on goods or service-producing “green-collar jobs” but “there is potential in the service sector that doesn’t always hit these marks. These could include everyone from janitors who use environmentally friendly cleaning products and methods to lawyers that focus on the environment. These should probably be considered green jobs as well.” Since Babson is a consultant, this is potentially a bit self-serving.
Not surprisingly, Morriss and friends don’t like that argument. “The purpose [of a green job] is to produce a good or service desired by consumers that can be sold for more than the cost of production,” Morriss, et al., says. “For a given level of output, businesses that use more resources are less efficient — have higher costs — than those using fewer resources.” Of course, the point of greening a company is not to make a business’s Human Resource department more efficient, but to reduce environmental impact. The UNEP and Mayors Conference both incorporate support jobs.
A strange side effect of this definition process has been to involve organized labor. The Green Jobs Act of 2007, which was the first piece of federal legislation to use “green jobs” in its title, came under fire for mandating union participation in green job training programs. “When Congress authorized the $125 million pilot program it only provided for training programs with some labor affiliation,” wrote Jim Snyder in a May 2008 article on the legislation for TheHill.com. Jones’ “Green Jobs Now!” movement also included unions. This comes from the movement’s FAQ: “As many green jobs as possible should be good, union jobs – with all the benefits of collective bargaining to help ensure good wages and working conditions.” As important as unions are, their inclusion in the definition of “green jobs” is not necessary.
What is the ultimate definition of a “green job”? I would argue that Biden’s statement with an added bit for support jobs would suffice, but the floor is still open. In this economy, the meaning of a “green job” might just mean having a job in the first place. A June study by Pew Charitable Trusts found that jobs in Alabama’s “clean energy economy” (enough euphemisms, already!) grew 2.2 percent between 1998 and 2007, outpacing jobs in general, which grew at only 1.6 percent. With that kind of growth, definitions seem less and less important.
Madison Underwood is a contributing writer for Birmingham Weekly. If you’d like to explain how unionized abortionists are planning to take over the world or otherwise join this debate, e-mail him at Madison@bhamweekly.com.