Nancy Folbre promotes the notion of green jobs at Economix and then gets down to business:
The biggest gains from investments in new renewable-energy technologies are not easily captured in private transactions, because they produce environmental services that are largely unpriced. Companies can sell consumers with a conscience a “share” in global greenhouse gas reduction – that’s what the growing business of carbon offsets is all about. But consumers who don’t pay also get the benefits, creating a strong temptation to free ride.
Companies can’t market to the consumers likely to benefit most, because they haven’t yet been born. Conventional fossil fuels are cost-effective now only because the environmental costs are dumped into a global commons that imposes costs on other people and future generations.
Public policies could remedy this problem, by imposing a tax on carbon emissions so that their market price better approximates their social cost. Adopting clean-energy standards would also increase demand for clean and green production, giving private companies greater incentive to invest.
This last three paragraphs are spot on, whereas the rest of the piece argues against the usual green jobs red herring criques -- they are too costly and they are difficult to count. These are red herrings because cost of green jobs vs ... what exactly? ... is not the comparison one should be making. We should be comparing the cost of the policy to the environmental benefits of the policy. Once you realize that, the definition and counting issue goes away.
The excerpt realizes that the focus should be on enacting environmental policies that provide incentives to clean up air and water. And note, and this is really more than a note, the last sentence of the excerpt is likely more costly than the preceding sentence. Standards are more costly than economic incentives which means ... standards likely create more green jobs than incentives! Ugh.
Some people argue that green jobs are a side benefit of environmental policy (i.e., "win-win"). I mostly disagree. In the energy sector, environmental policy should create clean energy jobs and reduce dirty energy jobs. In the consumer product sector, environmental policy should create jobs for people figuring out the best ways to produce goods and services while reducing pollution. Net jobs generated by environmental policy are largely unproductive; these jobs are producing something that people really don't want, which is final goods and services. When was the last time energy efficiency entered your utility function? What people want is cheaper energy so that they can spend money on other things.
People also want clean air and water but the demand for these is very different than the demand for final goods and services. There is no market for clean air and water so people will mostly want those things while at the same time not wanting to pay for environmental policy. Most everyone is more than willing to free ride. But, if you actually ask someone if they are willing to pay for clean air and water you'll find that the demand and willingness to pay is out there. People recognize that nothing is free and if they want clean air and water they must give up something in return.
The green jobs issue plays to the politics that there is a free lunch and only jobs matter in environmental policy. This could not be further from the truth. What matters is the extra market benefits produced: improved health, visibility, recreation and et cetera.
I'm hoping that environmental policy produces very few green jobs. This would indicate that businesses have found low cost ways to achieve clean air and water.