Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Jobs

This piece by Mark Mills in Forbes is at least interesting, but his analysis carelessly confuses various systems and so his conclusion don't follow logically. I was going to write a longish(er) post about his errors, but suffice it to say that (putting aside some nitpicking about labor productivity) he fails to draw distinction between the US economy and the global economy.

The obvious flaw in Mills analysis is that nations trade surplus goods, and a cleantech manufacturing boom in the US can employ a large number of Americans without necessarily requiring that they are all working to generate domestic energy. In fact, when you go one step further and acknowledge that over the next century the global economy will transition from fossil fuels you recognize that the nations that invest in their domestic industries will benefit by exporting technology and goods.

If Mills wanted to make a simple case from first principles against the economic benefits of various cleantech technologies, he'd probably be better off focusing on energy return on energy invested (EROEI). Of course, given that increasing global demand, falling reserves, and declining EROEI of novel fossil fuel sources, cleantech still doesn't come out looking so bad.

Of course, one doesn't get to write columns for Forbes without be a wrongheaded contrarian. Full disclosure: I work in solar R&D and am not an economist.