December 13, 2009
The Calzada Álvarez study on Spain’s Green Jobs and the California Jobs Initiative.
The Prospect recently took on an initiative from McClintock, Logue and Costa which is called the "California Jobs Initiative." Article HERE.
The authors of the initiative make the assumption that "going green" instead of investing in tried and true technologies is a mistake, and something the state can ill afford.
The initiative specified "several studies" had shown that green jobs were costly.
The Prospect contacted McClintock staff, and Logue staff, to find the "several studies." The staff was helpful, particularly Steve Thompson, from Assemblyman Logue’s office. Eventually, "the Spanish study" was forwarded to this editor as such a study.
In doing the original article, Prospect staff did a literature search for metrics on the cost of green jobs. The most sensible seemed to come from Next 10, and those are the figures we quoted, because they looked across a wide variety of indicators.
However, the whole "green" thing is deeply interwoven with emotion on both sides. The Next 10 paper only looked at positive outcomes of greening. The broader, often more emotional nature of the "green" discussion is addressed below, but first to update on the "several studies".
The study referred to does not look at all the impacts of green jobs; it does not look at the long term savings in energy as the Next 10 paper does; it does not consider the validity of global climate change or the costs associated with that; he does not look at the end of fossil fuels as an inevitable step of "realignment." The study looks only at Spanish subsidies for renewable electrical generation, which deflates a very popular conservative claim that Calzada puts the ax to "green jobs" when only one section of green technology was considered.
The Calzada Álvarez study "Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources" studied the result of Spain’s expenditures of public money to reaching renewable energy goals set by the European Commission, which is found HERE. Spain intended to generate 30% of its energy from renewable resources by 2010; it did so in 2008.
Dr. Gabriel Calzada Álvarez essentially uses two means of figuring the number of jobs created for every dollar spent on green technology over the number of jobs that would be expected if a similar amount were spent in the current petroleum economy.
Does Calzada achieve this? He does, though there are a number of critics of his paper, including Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who released a report saying the study has major flaws.
The Prospect did review Calzada’s paper. We aren’t specialists in this kind of work, but it is clear that, even if his methodology is somewhat questionable (the paper has not been peer reviewed), one should realize that developing renewable energy isn’t going to be cheap.
However, does the Calzada Alvarez paper justify the "California Job Initiative" assumption that "several studies" show green jobs are bad?
We don’t think so. But, let’s take the point for a minute, what about the new "green" jobs that will eventually be created. Are they great?
Likely, no. Green jobs, like the majority of jobs created, will not pay great, and many are in construction, so they’re "temporary" jobs. Some green jobs, like the ones we lost from the cogen plant, pay well by local standards.
How you feel about green jobs probably depends on a couple of things:
Most governments and most scientists now believe that global warming is at least partially due to human causes. There are reasons to doubt this, and so people do doubt it, but in general, climatologists and evolutionary biologists are calling the current age the "anthropocene" because they believe humans are changing the climate and life on earth as much as the dramatic global events of the past. McClintock and Logue don’t seem to believe in human caused global climate change, but their supporters would stop giving them money if they did, so probably they won’t. We here at the Sierra County Prospect agree that there is more to climate than meets the eye, but there is science, and not "left wing tax and spenders" behind climate change.
The idea of "peak oil" is also complicated, but not nearly so complicated as the climate. Peak oil was hypothesized by M. King Hubert in the late 1950s. Below is a graph and a link from Wiki.
The Hubbert Peak Oil graph, from Wiki.
It works out to this: there is only so much oil, only so much coal, in short, only so many dead dinosaurs for us to burn in our cars (OK, not from dead dinos, but from rotting swamps and other geological sources of hydrocarbons). The earth isn’t a big bladder of oil, and if it were, we could still eventually pump it dry.
McClintock seems not to believe in peak oil; in general people who don’t believe in peak oil tend to say things like "technology will deal with it" indicating they intend to spend on some kind of technology, though apparently not green alternatives.
Key to understanding peak oil is that the amount of oil will decrease relative to need. As time goes by, and more people make and buy more things, more and more oil will be needed. That’s where the hope comes in that "technology" will save us; likely it won’t. Most likely our oil needs will increase even as new supplies decrease. Not only do we need oil for energy, but for plastic and chemicals and a ton of other things. Oil is too valuable to burn. Eventually, to maintain a lifestyle founded on cheap carbon energy, we’ll destroy the planet to get the last drops, like a dope fiend after one last high.
But, more on that in a minute.
Some people like to believe that things can go on forever. We have that expectation, and in our experience, it’s true. If we limit our world view to our experience, we know that weather gets warmer sometimes, and sometimes it gets colder. We know that science has always been there, and that experts have always found energy. We know America is great and our forest are still vast. We believe there are hard times and easy times.
But, an analysis of history states that, for the common person and for empires, nothing goes on forever. The California Jobs Initiative seems to imply that, if left alone, things will go back to being as they were, and things will go on forever.
If we step back, even the Spain study which forms the backbone of support for the initiative makes the assumption that we can do nothing, and, indeed, that doing nothing pays more than doing something. We can do nothing to replace fossil fuels as energy.
The truth is, Spain took its initiative for renewable energy because it imports 1,800,000 barrels of oil a day; it is the largest oil importer in Europe. That works out to $62.5 Billion, a lot of money for a small nation. Currently, Spain is under such an energy crunch that people are restricted by law from turning the thermostat higher than 70 degrees; speed limits have been reduced and government vehicles are being fitted to burn more alternative fuels. Airlines are allowed to take shorter routes once reserved for the military. Is there any doubt that severe fuel shortages cost jobs?
Spain is now among the top three producers in the world of wind, solar and other green energies including biofuels. In November of this year, over half of the nation’s electrical power came from wind energy.
Given this, is Spain’s push for renewable energy still a bad idea, or is this actually the technology that the "no end to cheap energy" people insist will save us?
Whenever there is a shift in technologies there is a corresponding cost. Infrastructure has to be created, and new technologies have to be encouraged. There is no way to avoid this cost. Think of the cost of US highways as part of the cost of becoming a petroleum based economy.
A bigger part of the problem is that "green" is equated with "doing without." If you’re green, you don’t eat factory beef (but Sierra Valley grass fed beef is still pretty green!), you drive a crappy little car that sounds like a sewing machine, and you don’t let your kids go nuts in the dollar store. It means eating beans cooked like they do in India, and eating sprouts like a cow. It means having to ride mass transportation, crowded with farting, leering strangers. No wonder so many of us get "green burnout" and want to drive the SUV across the street to get a burger cooked over a nice big flame and a side of deep fat fried GMO spuds. It is easy to make green sound responsible, and healthy, and sustainable, but absolutely no way to make "green" sound fun, unless you’re drinking green beer.
Green is also associated with anti-capitalism in that sustainability tends to favor small things: small power plants, local food, local economies. How does big business profit from a farmer’s market?
Indeed one of the reasons conservatives are so thrilled with the Spain report is that Spain is a socialist nation, after years of Franco fascism and oppression. Socialism, as we know, is something McClintock and Logue are surely not in favor of. It isn’t surprising, likely, that a socialist nation would go green.
What does all this mean for the Prospect analysis of the California Jobs Initiative? Not much.
We already knew that realignment, due to global climate change and relative energy shortages would cost jobs, and create lower paying jobs. Further, there is no reason to believe that the Calzada Álvarez study actually shows that Spain lost money on the green energy push, only that more jobs would have been created (maybe) with the government money going to something else. All things considered, Spain’s green energy push is benefiting the country, in the myriad ways that Next 10 demonstrates that California benefits from green technology.
Finally, the Prospect does not find any reason to believe that more jobs will be created if AB 32 is suspended. It simply means that more money will go toward sustaining the unsustainable lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed under cheap energy.
Which leads to a last point: the inevitability of it all. Today’s baby boomers lived in one of the most opulent times in history, and the car and the single family home made that possible. It’s a lifestyle we love, but we’re very foolish if we imagine that most of human history has been, or will be like that. Boomers lived through the peak of America’s empire, and it burned brightly, brief though it was. It can’t go on forever. The California Jobs Initiative says it will. AB 32 acknowledges that it won’t, and prepares us for the future.