Green Jobs Or Green Gyms?

Posted on Tue 01/26/2010 by


By Nick Loris

How do you solve homelessness, obesity and global warming all at once? A green gym, of course:

Cass Community Social Services (Cass) will further its commitment to the Detroit community and the environment on Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 9:00 am when it opens the doors to its Green Gym. The Green Gym is the nation’s first workout facility created specifically for homeless men, women and children. The grand opening of the Green Gym will mark a revolutionary step by Cass to improve its carbon footprint, reduce its energy costs and improve the quality of life for Detroit’s most at-risk citizens.

The Green Gym will be the first of its kind. Nowhere else in the country have such innovations been implemented for the benefit of homeless citizens. In addition to standard fitness equipment such as two weight machines, boxing bags, and a treadmill, 10 Green Revolution Technology™ enabled stationary bikes will generate electricity to be redirected into Cass’ power grid. Over one year of four daily classes, a full class of 10 at the Green Gym can generate enough power to light 36 homes for a month, or three homes for a year!

“Not only is this gym a good idea for the environment, but it will help build the general health of our clients who often struggle with diabetes or heart disease associated with obesity and weight gain,” states Rev. Faith Fowler, Cass executive director. “Stationary bikes offer accessible exercise for most levels of fitness and create an atmosphere for our growing healthy community.”

The organization running the program, Cass Community Social Services, is a non-profit so it can choose to spend its money how it pleases. But there is a significant opportunity cost here; resources spent on a green gym could have been spent elsewhere more prudently – trying to save the environment is spreading the Cass’s initiative too thin. Or why not pay the homeless if they’re providing a service?

It also goes to show how inefficient “green energy” really is. Assuming that Cass meets the goal of four daily classes of 10 homeless people riding bikes for an entire year is met, it will power three homes in that year. This is the green mantra: more jobs per kilowatt hour is a good thing. To show how inefficient green energy is, Heritage economist David Kreutzer points to a “1945 issue of Mechanix Illustrated. It shows a cyclist pedaling a jerry-rigged generator to power hair dryers in a Parisian beauty salon. Though not the sort of green job that is currently talked about, this human-powered generator illustrates why costly energy policies are not a stimulus.

A person on a bicycle generator would do very well to average 150 watts of output during a day. At this level, a modern-day cyclist/generator could produce electricity worth 10-15 cents per day at retail prices. With sufficient subsidies, people could be induced to power such generators and the proponents could then point to the “green” jobs that have been “created.” What is not seen is the value of the cyclists’ forgone output elsewhere. Even at minimum wage, the value of the labor is $52.40 per day. So each human powered generator would shrink the economy by over $50 per day. This is not an economic stimulus.”

Proponents of renewable energy argue that since windmills and solar panels create more jobs per kilowatt hour than more traditional sources of energy, they are a good investment. But this logic should not be the measuring stick for implementing new energy sources—it proves only that clean energy sources are an inefficient use of human capital and these resources could be more beneficial in other sectors of the economy.

President Obama’s State of the Union address will likely focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. One would think a big part of that message will be green jobs. But if Spanish experience with a green job initiative is any preview of what would happen in the United States, green policies will destroy more jobs than it creates – and cost the taxpayers at the same time. Spain spent $8 billion a year on green energy subsidies. The result is that for every green job created, 2.2 jobs were lost because so much money was taken out of viable parts of the economy and put into a more unreliable green market. There’s that opportunity cost problem again.

Contributing Author Nick Loris writes at The Heritage Foundation and he is a Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

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