This is the third and last installment of my chapter, “Green jobs in a sustainable economy,”, published recently in the book “Mandate for Change”. You can read part one and part two, in which I discuss the first six out of eight ways in which to create an environmentally sustainable economy.
Seventh, the global agricultural system is coming unglued. The days of transporting food over thousands of miles, of dousing soils with pesticides and artificial fertilizers, and of growing thousands of acres of the same crop, will soon draw to a close. Millions of new urban gardening jobs could be created within cities and suburbs in order to produce most of our fruits and vegetables, and most grain could be grown close to urban areas. This kind of agriculture will build up the soil, which is the natural capital of our farming system, instead of letting it be destroyed and washed away (two examples of sustainable agricultural practices are permaculture and bio-intensive gardening).
A soil-enhancing, pesticide- and artificial fertilizer-free agriculture would be much more labor-intensive than the current system. Industrial agriculture is only productive because of the indiscriminate use of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. Organic, intensive agriculture is more productive in terms of land, but requires high skill levels and more labor.
Training Institutes could help new gardener/farmers to produce healthy, sustainable food, and the Bank could be used to help them set up a new garden/farm. The American agricultural workforce could balloon from the current 1 million to many millions, making it one of the most effective green-collar jobs possible.
Agriculture, like transportation, building construction and energy, could stop being a source of crisis and start becoming a source of sustainability.
Eighth, our economy teeters on the edge of a cliff, at least partly caused by the decline of the manufacturing sector. But the various programs advocated in this chapter all rely on a healthy manufacturing sector to produce the trains, wind turbines, solar panels, zero emission buildings, organic gardens and more that are needed to decrease carbon emissions and avoid the wholesale destruction of the biosphere. Thus, in order to create a sustainable society and guarantee our economic well-being, it is imperative that the federal government act to support the revival of the manufacturing sector.
The Infrastructure Capital Development Bank could include a national system of manufacturing extension services, which would help start and expand manufacturing firms to provide the sinews of the green economy. The extension services could also start an epochal shift, from manufacturing which uses up the Earth’s resources and pollutes our ecosystems, to a manufacturing system that is “cradle to cradle“—that is, that uses recycled materials and creates zero pollution. If this shift happens, all manufacturing, for the first time in human history, could be sustainable and all manufacturing workers would be blue-green-collar.
Manufacturing is not simply a source of jobs, it is a critical part of any prosperous society. Even the capacity to trade for manufactured goods requires a thriving manufacturing sector. According to the WTO[PDF], only 20 percent of the trade among the regions of the world is in services; the rest is in merchandise. So, even though 65 percent of the U.S. economy is part of the nongovernmental service economy, most of that output cannot be traded for foreign manufacturing goods. Indeed, the U.S. trade deficit that threatens the value of the dollar cannot be closed unless manufacturing activity is increased.
This imbalance occurs because services usually involve the act of using manufactured goods, which can only be done on-site. Thus, a solar panel is installed and maintained by service personnel; a salesperson might sell the panel to the homeowner after he/she saw an advertisement; a trucker might bring the panel to the home after various office services such as accounting have been involved. All of these services added together might yield many more jobs and much more economic activity than the manufacture of the solar panels in the first place. But the services are all dependent on the manufactured solar panels, and technological advances in the manufacture of the solar panels can have large effects on the employment possibilities of the industry.
Manufacturing the solar panels also brings about the need for services at various stages of the production process, such as in research, design and marketing. Most importantly, however, the solar panels themselves are built with parts that have been produced using industrial machinery. These various kinds of industrial machinery, such as machine tools or silicon-purification equipment, have their own “ecosystems” of services and manufacturing attached to them. And this industrial machinery has a unique aspect: It can be used for all manufacturing industries, which in their turn spawn the rest of the services that make up the economy.
Thus, manufacturing solar panels not only makes the various service jobs such as installation possible, it also provides a market for the very core of the economic ecosystem: The various industrial machineries that in turn are used to produce the goods and services that power the entire economy.
Now consider how this process takes place when making wind turbines, trains, building materials, geothermal heat pumps or gardening tools. Not only are the millions of service jobs associated with these technologies expanded as green industries grow, the entire industrial machinery core of the system could be rebuilt in the United States. This provides a short-term boost to the economy, but more importantly, it creates the long-term foundation of economic reconstruction that can help rebuild the middle class, move people out of poverty and create a prosperous society for the foreseeable future.
In sum, a green-collar jobs program can achieve a carbon-free inter-city and intra-city transportation system supported by walkable urbanism, a carbon-free energy system based on buildings, metropolitan areas and a national grid, and a sustainable agricultural and manufacturing system. New federal policies can move us, now, in the direction of a society in which all jobs are green-collar.