Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Has Gordon gone green?

In the course of a stuttering and nervous performance, the only things missing from poor Gordon's speech to the US Congress were handstands and wetting himself. He spewed out the usual panoply of meaningless soundbites with his customary lack of vision. Unlike his predecessor, poor Gordon cannot inspire through his delivery, he can only read a set script. The difficulty this causes him is that his words fall to be interpreted from the written page without the way they are spoken offering any insight into their true meaning. The BBC has helpfully published what purports to be the full speech (here). It is worth reading in full to see that he wasn't saying anything most of the time, Tony Blair's speeches read the same way but by listening to them you got a sense of meaning wholly missing from the printed words.

There was one thing poor Gordon said that caused me great trouble. The words cited by the BBC are these:
"... it is only by tackling climate change that we create the millions of new green jobs we need."

This really is a classic example of meaningless circular twaddle.

If we are to try to find some meaning in it we have to start by trying to spot a substantive proposition among the fluff. I think there is one, I think it is contained in these words "the millions of new ... jobs we need". He is certainly right in suggesting that millions of new jobs are needed, and you can leave America to one side, millions of new jobs are needed here in the UK as we already have almost two million people unemployed according to the official measure and at least the same again hidden by the selective nature of that measure.

So, we have a logical starting point, we need millions of new jobs. But this sensible proposition is qualified because he actually said "the millions of new green jobs we need". Why, pray, do we need millions of new green jobs rather than millions of any other colour of employment? The answer, of course, is that we don't. It's pure wibble. An unemployed person seeking to earn a living needs a job, any job. Green, black, blue or yellow with pink spots, it restores dignity into his life and puts food on the table. An income of £25,000 earned by making gas-guzzlers puts every bit as much food on the table as an income of £25,000 earned as a climate change interface consultant.

Having found a sensible proposition and seen it rendered senseless by an unnecessary and irrelevant adjective, we can then look at the first part of the phrase to see if that restores meaning. "It is only by tackling climate change that we can create the millions of new ... jobs we need" That is a logical proposition. Incorrect in fact, but internally consistent. If no jobs are available from any other source, they could, in theory, be created by projects to tackle climate change. But it is not his case, and could never be his case, that tackling climate change is the only source of new employment. So that can't be what he meant to say.

Let's see if it can be approached in another way by extracting different words. Try this: "It is only by tackling climate change that we can create ... millions of new green jobs". That works, but only if we have a definition of "green". Indeed, it works only if the definition of green is "a job that tackles climate change". If this is the correct interpretation, he said it is only by tackling climate change that we can create jobs tackling climate change. It's hard to disagree with that as a proposition, it is as true as saying it is only by tackling the lack of gas-guzzlers that we can create jobs making gas-guzzlers. It is true insofar as it goes, but it doesn't go very far because it merely states a truism more accurately expressed in reverse - it is only by creating jobs making gas-guzzlers that we can tackle the current lack of gas-guzzlers. Similarly, it is only by creating jobs tackling climate change that we can tackle climate change. Yet this doesn't express his full point because it makes no mention of the need for those jobs.

We can always test a proposition starting "it is only by doing X that Y can result" by asking what the position would be if we don't do X. Poor Gordon starts "it is only by tackling climate change" and then talks about jobs. So what will happen to jobs if we don't tackle climate change? Well, it rather depends on what you mean by "tackle climate change". He didn't say what he meant, which leaves us with an infinitely variable concept. Assuming he did not mean seeking to change solar output, the churning of the oceans, the speed of the winds or any other of the thousands of natural contributors to our climate, it is probably fair to infer that he meant the alleged influence of production of carbon dioxide by industrial processes and the use of such wickednesses as motor cars and aeroplanes. If that is right, it follows inevitably that jobs will be lost as industries are forced to increase their costs or close completely. So, if we don't tackle this aspect of climate change existing industrial jobs will be preserved and if we do tackle it existing industrial jobs will be lost. That's not a good start for an argument about the benefit to employment of tackling climate change.

Against this background of losing some existing industrial employment, where does poor Gordon's analysis stand? Having lost those jobs it is necessary to replace them but without the new jobs doing the evil that required the old jobs to go. Thus, we find a need for "millions of new green jobs". Yes, this is good, we have found a possible way in which there is a need for "millions of new green jobs". Ah, but there is a problem, the very thing that causes that need is said to be the creator of the "millions of new green jobs". No, that doesn't work. Tackling climate change in the manner I have identified creates a need for millions of new green jobs, but it does not create millions of new green jobs it merely destroys millions of old non-green jobs.

I have to admit defeat. I cannot find any sense in what poor Gordon said. His conversion to greenieness has been adjourned.


Roger Sowell said...

Mr. FB,

Well done, sir, well done! I was puzzled about these green jobs, until I attended a workshop in Sacramento, California this past December 2008. I found that California defines green jobs as those where new hires make latte coffees. Seriously.


and the paragraph beginning "Another dubious statement..."

Leg-iron said...

The Green Gorgon. Hmm. Someone could be employed drawing the comic strip.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Mr. Bigot. Gorden et. al.'s statement is seemingly based on the principles of climate modelling: the pertetual motion machine.

Alex Cull said...

That's a fine and trenchant analysis you've written. I'm wondering what kind of jobs these "green jobs" will turn out to be, anyway. Details appear to be sketchy at the moment; the only sort of work I'm aware of so far is installing loft insulation. So, rather low-tech... In the absence of more information, my mind is boggling and coming up with Dickensian images of convicts picking oakum and sewing mailbags.

Also, isn't Gordon falling for the broken window fallacy? Worse than that perhaps? At least with a broken window you know that a crime has been committed and that a window needs to be fixed. With man-made global warming increasingly appearing to be not much more than a James Hansen-induced mirage, Gordon doesn't even have that certainty.

Perhaps his statement could be interpreted to mean: "It is only by being seen to tackle the giant non-problem of climate change, that we create the millions of low-tech make-work non-jobs we need to distract the electorate from the real problems the country is now in."

I know, that doesn't make sense either.

Anonymous said...

"n income of £25,000 earned by making gas-guzzlers puts every bit as much food on the table as an income of £25,000 earned as a climate change interface consultant. "

Yes, but the one is creating wealth whereas the other is tax-eating.

We don't need the green jobs, they are a COST of green-ness, not a benefit of anything.