No excuse for bad policy

The editor of The Nation has a list of tasks for a new U.S. congressional committee on “energy independence and global warming.” It’s a small operation but it’s led by Rep. Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, a guy who’s shown himself to be unusually clueful about science and technology issues in particular, for a guy who’s spent 30 years in federal politics. (He’s also the guy responsible for Daylight Saving Time starting early, but I can forgive him that.)

It seems very likely that Markey’s committee will be rather like a Canadian Senate committee — they hold a lot of hearings, hold a couple of publicity stunts, release a well-researched and -considered report on a pressing issue of public policy that contains sensible advice and a notable lack of partisanship, then disappear quietly.

That’d be better than doing what Katrina vanden Heuvel prescribes, however. Task #1, she says:

1.Job Creation

There are many good groups doing work on the relationship between job creation and clean energy. The Apollo Alliance – a coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, urban, farm, faith and business groups – has a plan that has won wide respect. It includes: promoting renewables; upgrading existing energy infrastructure; improving efficiency in transportation, industry, and buildings; research in new clean technology; and Smart Growth for cities and suburbs.

Joel Rogers, a member of Apollo’s National Steering Committee and Director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, says, “We estimate that $300 billion spent on our plan would generate about 3 million new jobs…. It would generate a little over $1 trillion in additional GDP over its ten-year development. And, most important, it would reduce our energy costs by better than $300 billion annually. …

Van Jones, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, has discussed a Clean Energy Jobs Bill with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would help “create green pathways out of poverty.” Jones says, “The bill would get hundreds of millions of dollars in green-collar job training down to community colleges, vocational colleges and public high schools across the country. It would establish Clean Tech Training Centers in at least one public high school in every US city. And it would create a National Energy Corps, which would give America’s youth the opportunity to help retrofit buildings and put up solar and wind farms.”

The Apollo Alliance and Campus Climate Action are working with the Ella Baker Center to advance these ideas. Elizabeth Martin Perera, Climate Policy Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), also notes that a cap on greenhouse gasses will open new markets for low-carbon fuels, low-carbon electricity, and renewables.

No, no, no. This is taking global warming and using it as an excuse for a royal flush of big-government job-creation programs, all of them B.S.ful. As one of the commenters on vanden Heuvel’s post notes, if $300 billion generates 3 million new jobs, that’s $100,000 of government spending per job. How many jobs would be “created” by leaving as much of that money as possible in people’s pockets? And how many of these green-collar jobs will be lost when the government funds a corps of volunteers to compete with the semi-skilled labourers?

The markets for low-carbon fuels and electricity don’t generate wealth out of nothing, once they’re working — they draw it from the abandoned fossil-fuel markets where prices are artificially low because they don’t factor in long-term costs imposed on other people. But nobody gets rich by magic out of all this.

Suggesting that somebody will, and the intervention of government will make it happen, is a surefire way to alienate sensible people who trust the science but are suspicious of the proposed responses to climate change. If facts are beyond politics  (which I think they are) and response is urgent (which I think it is), the environmental left owes the rest of us some moderation, too.

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