In December 2007, just as the worst recession in decades got underway, 54 leading U.S. economists were asked by Business Week magazine to share their economic outlook for 2008.
More than 96 per cent saw another year of modest growth. Only two predicted a recession -- even though it had already started.
In July 2008, when oil prices hit $147 US a barrel, some of the biggest brains on Wall Street -- along with famed energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens -- predicted crude would soon hit $200.
Wrong again. With oil now hovering around $50, the experts overshot the mark by $150.
As these gigantic goofs illustrate, forecasting anything -- from next year's economic growth, to the outcome of the Stanley Cup playoffs, to this weekend's weather, to the growth of man-made carbon emissions by 2050 -- is a fool's game.
Most forecasts turn out to be dead wrong. Why?
They're often based on faulty assumptions, an inability to anticipate the impact of complex future technological or societal changes, incomplete or inaccurate data, and last but not least, built-in biases.
Even the most fair-minded forecasters often see what they want to see -- depending on their particular vested interest -- and then do their best to rationalize the preordained conclusions their "research" inevitably produces.
All of which brings me to the current topic du jour: the glorious dream, perpetuated by the green lobby and its allies that the world can end its reliance on evil fossil fuels, slash carbon emissions, save the planet, and create millions of well-paid new green jobs, with little or no pain.
Along the way, we're told, we could also end the recession, replace the millions of North American jobs that have disappeared since the downturn began, and set the world on course for a bright, sustainable, shiny future.
This is pure fantasy, of course, and it's even more delusional in light of the current global economic crisis.
Entire countries are now flirting with bankruptcy, global bank losses are expected to top $4 trillion US, according to the International Monetary Fund, and the U.S. has already lost more jobs -- 5.1 million -- than Barack Obama's celebrated green-jobs plan promises to create over the next 10 years.
Yet, if anything, the fantastical dream of economic salvation through green jobs grows stronger by the day. But that doesn't change a simple fact. The world depends on fossil fuels for an obvious reason. They're cheap, plentiful, efficient and flexible.
The preferred green alternatives -- solar power, wind power, biofuels, geothermal, tidal power, fuel cells -- are far more costly, less reliable and largely unproven, on a mass commercial basis.
All rely heavily on massive public subsidies -- from cash-strapped governments that are already straining under the weight of huge deficits -- and in the case of corn-based ethanol, are arguably more damaging to the planet than fossil fuels.
Most thoughtful people know this. But that doesn't stop the greens from pushing their sanitized version of the future.
Witness the 70-page report issued Wednesday by Greenpeace, the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter, and the Alberta Federation of Labour, titled It's Time to Build Alberta's Future.
At a time when Alberta -- and the rest of the country -- is shedding thousands of jobs every month, the report suggests the province could create more than 200,000 green jobs in areas such as mass transit, renewable energy and publicly funded home retrofits.
Predictably, the report slams "false solutions" such as Alberta's $2-billion commitment to carbon capture and storage technology, which doesn't align with the green movement's selective enthusiasm for new technology.
I hope you read the report. It's thought-provoking. But after you do, I'd suggest you read another report, produced last month by a group of economists and legal experts from four U.S. universities, titled Green Jobs Myths.
The report can be downloaded, free of charge, from the U.S.-based Social Science Research Network.
Be forewarned: the painstakingly researched 97-page document doesn't make for easy reading. It's a scholarly study, full of footnotes, detailed tables, and comprehensive economic and energy data. It's not a polemic.
But in the end, it paints a damning, highly critical picture of the lofty job creation claims that are so casually tossed around by people like Al Gore, and pressure groups such as Greenpeace.
It's impossible to do the report justice in this column. It covers far too much ground, and the details are exhaustive. But it concludes that there are seven myths behind the current ideological push to create so-called green jobs:
Myth One: There is no coherent, standardized definition of a green job, thus creating a smokescreen behind which political coalitions, labour unions and lobby groups can hide in pursuit of other goals.
Myth Two: Creating green jobs will boost productive employment. In fact, green jobs estimates include huge numbers of clerical, bureaucratic and administrative positions that do not produce goods or services.
Myth Three: Green jobs forecasts are reliable. Not so, say the report's authors. In fact, estimates vary enormously, and are often based on faulty logic, questionable assumptions, and reflect inherent bias.
Myth Four: Green jobs promote employment growth. Untrue, the authors conclude. Economic growth can't be mandated through central planning or regulation.
Myth Five: The world economy can be remade based on local production, and reduced consumption, without dramatically decreasing human welfare. "This is a recipe for economic disaster, not ecotopia," the report finds.
Myth Six: Mandates are a substitute for markets. History shows that markets are far more efficient at accomplishing the very goals greens purport to seek, the authors say.
Myth Seven: Wishing for technological progress is sufficient. Not so, say the authors, who decry the green lobby's "selective technological optimism/pessimism," and unrealistic expectations.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Apr 23 2009
Byline: Gary Lamphier