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When Will Politicians Stop Hiding Behind the Phrase 'Green Jobs'?

29/07/2015 12:14 BST | Updated 29/07/2016 10:59 BST

By all means, if you want to support green energy do so. Provided that it's the right green energy, with sensible and joined-up thinking, I'll support it myself. Just don't expect me to support wind power in the UK at present because we don't yet have an affordable solution to the storage problem. In the meantime, we're still busy importing fossil fuels. Wind power won't stop that happening, because most power is needed on the days of the year when there is least wind.

I believe there will come a time, not too far into the future, when tidal power will be a cost-effective and reliable means of generation. Other technologies show promise but may be further off. But please, don't use the disingenuous 'green jobs' argument. It is an intellectually dishonest attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of a public who are spoon-fed soundbites by the media.

In her Left Foot Forward article, Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall is the latest to advance the 'green jobs' argument. She misses the point. Jobs are created whenever a new project is started, whether it's a gas-fired power station or a wind farm. Whether or not the job is 'green' in this sense is largely irrelevant as far as economics are concerned. It may be relevant in other ways, to the environment, and that's the case that the green lobby should make.

The jobs are created when a new plant is built, irrespective of whether or not the plant concerned is 'green', however the word 'green' is to be defined. Do we class nuclear jobs as 'green' because it's effectively a zero-carbon means of production?

Thorny questions like this are generally ignored: the catch-all phrase 'green jobs' is used to stifle debate. It's what the Left in British politics has tended to do well over the years: to find a form of words which, in itself, implies that no reasonable person could possibly disagree. Only by logic, reasoning and deconstruction does the myth find itself exposed - and who can do that in a televised soundbite response?

There are only two possibilities for any form of renewable energy:

1. It is commercially viable without additional subsidies beyond that given to conventional energy

2. It requires additional subsidy

If 1 is the case, then there's no need to make a 'green jobs' argument. The form of energy generation proposed is competitive anyway and will create jobs. In fact, in this case it would be in the interest of industry to create 'green' power without any need for third parties to lobby government.

If 2 is the case, then the jobs will be created whether conventional or 'green' if the extra capacity is created. But the additional subsidy, however it is paid, will cost jobs. As energy bills go up, energy-intensive industries leave the UK and go abroad - often to India. When this happens, do we expect that they'll be using cleaner power than they are here? Oh, our own power consumption will go down but if we take a global perspective then it likely increases carbon emissions rather than lower them. TATA steel are the latest to announce job losses, and no wonder: energy prices are crippling the UK steel industry.

The alternative is to fund through general taxation. If a government spends more money than it needs to on a project, without creating jobs over and above those which would have been created anyway, the money has to come from somewhere. Additional taxation, for obvious economic reasons, leads to job losses.

Far from 'green jobs' actually being new jobs, they lead to a loss of employment elsewhere. One report, now out of date, suggested that for every 'green job' created, 3.7 jobs are lost elsewhere.

So come on, environmentalists. Don't hide behind the phrase 'green jobs'. If you want more renewables now, explain why you believe that environment trumps economics. If you believe that the UK should unilaterally lower our own carbon emissions immediately when the rest of the world isn't, and when our own action would be dwarfed by global trends, please tell us why. Make that case.

In the meantime, I'm going to stick to my view. The globe hasn't warmed for two decades, and we're expecting unusually low solar activity from 2020 onwards. I believe that we have a bit of breathing space to better assess the extent to which climate change will be a problem. None of the models predicted the current hiatus in global warming; perhaps the planet's fragile equilibrium is less unstable than we've been assuming and the earth has a natural resilience.

In short, we have breathing space to do the research we need to make renewables viable. For a change, let's have an honest debate on energy. If we plan for the long term rather than responding out of panic, we just might find that we can do both: keep people in work, and look after the environment. And in all this debate, how easy it is to overlook that the environment is about more than the single measure of CO2 emissions!