Green Jobs Reality and Rhetoric
In an article entitled “Will Green Jobs Become the New Greenwash?”, Joel Makower asks the reader:
“Could it be deemed a good thing that everyone is talking about green jobs, already though they don’t necessarily know what that method? Or do we need standards and definitions that help us gauge how well we’re really doing? “
The semantic question is important to answer, though in no way basic for us to define a “green job.” A number of forces are coming together to put under the microscope the true meaning of green jobs, and what possible — economically, environmentally and socially — they might keep up.
In the United States, Joel’s question exposes a rare challenge. In the U.S., we “live to work” as opposed to “work to live.” This way of life’s being questioned as greater environmental challenges mount and force us to reconsider our long-term priorities and what we’re truly working toward. There’s a cultural undercurrent that’s disrupting, resisting and eschewing traditional definitions as we meet our generational challenge: global warming. Is economic success alone enough anymore, or does it lose relevance as the ability to enjoy a comfortable life is threatened by resource shortages, emotional weather events and increasing insecurity in what the future will look like for people’s children and grandchildren?
The possible people see in green jobs — and perhaps the root of all the hype and possible for greenwashing — is to finally find balance and synergy between their personal, specialized and public lives. “Doing well while doing good,” so to speak, is evolving into the next iteration of the American dream.
The Green Jobs Mirage?
Al Gore has famously stated that the coming environmental dramatical change promises to be bigger than the Industrial dramatical change and happen faster than the Technology dramatical change. With such a sea change occurring in front of our eyes, it’s no surprise we sometimes stare in disbelief: “Is this really happening?” If we can’t define it, however less see it, does it exist?
Consider these facts excerpted from Joel’s article:
o The Apollo Alliance’s New Apollo Program proposes an investment of $500 billion over 10 years to create 5 million green-collar jobs in a range of industries including replaceable energy; energy efficiency; transit and transportation; and research, development and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies.
o The Center for American Progress and the Political Economy Research Institute call for spending $100 billion over two years to create 2 million jobs in building retrofitting, expansion of the transit and freight rail grids, construction of a “smart” electrical grid, wind and solar strength, and next-gen biofuels.
o A report prepared by Global Insight for the U.S. Conference of Mayors forecasts that replaceable strength generation, building retrofitting, and replaceable transportation fuels will together generate 1.7 million new jobs by 2018 and another 846,000 related engineering, legal, research and consulting locaiongs. That total jumps to 3.5 million jobs by 2028 and 4.2 million by 2038.
o A study by the American Solar Energy Society asserts that the replaceable energy and energy-efficiency industries represented more than 9 million jobs and $1.04 billion in U.S. revenue in 2007, 95 percent in private industry, and could mushroom to as many as 37 million jobs by 2030 — more than 17 percent of all expected U.S. employment.
o A report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation predicts that a $50 billion investment in the smart grid over five years “would create approximately 239,000 new or retained U.S. jobs for each of the 5 years on average.”
“Proposes,” “call for spending,” “forecasts,” “asserts” and “predicts” all characterize the possible for this sector. But the rhetoric’s however to become a reality, right?
Green jobs do exist — though at the moment, they’re few and far between. However, we need to understand where we are in the life cycle of the green job movement to appreciate why we have such a hard time defining, identifying and getting a green job.
Understanding the dramatical change
The Industrial dramatical change took decades to become without exception obvious — however less to garner a name. The technology dramatical change of the late 20th century took nearly 25 years to be labeled, famous, disdained (thanks to the bust of 2001) and finally understood.
In typical technology thinking, there’s an “S” curve that defines spread of a technology product, starting off flat with few adopters in the early going, and then steeply rising for the bulk of the time, until the technology is so ubiquitous that adoption flattens off because, theoretically, everyone has one. observe the iPhone explosion: at first just a few technophiles pony up the $400 for a first generation phone, and then, as popularity increases, the price comes down to the point that seemingly everyone carries one.
As with technology and the “S” curve, so, too, with green jobs. We are fewer than 10 years into this environmental renaissance, which may well define a generation. Indeed, just a few years ago, Adam Werbach, the former president of the Sierra Club, decried the death of the environmental movement.
“The late David’s [referring to David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club] vision of restoration was a story about how America would come together to rebuild its industrial and transportation base by an alliance that would accelerate our change to a clean energy future. It was a proposal for a New Deal on clean jobs. It was the most articulate, future-oriented vision he had ever offered.”
Thomas Friedman recently explored the implications of a trillion-dollar stimulus package focused on green job creation:
“Just imagine what a trillion-dollar investment would return to the economy, including the ‘transmission, ‘ if we committed at that level to green jobs and technologies.”
To bring green jobs into reality, we will be forced to collectively experiment with new forms of finance, governance and responsibility.
Indeed, as Friedman notes, “The exciting thing about the energy technology dramatical change is that it spans the whole economy — from green-collar construction jobs to high-tech solar panel designing jobs. It could lift so many boats.” This change — or renaissance — to a greener future could well be happening everywhere and anywhere.
The Shadow of Unemployment and the Need for Government sustain
The labor markets are in dynamic flux at present. Unemployment increases towards double digits in California (9.6 percent at present), with the trend following nationally (now near 7.6 percent). It is, it seems, an doubtful time for the kind of growth in green jobs that we are hoping for and projecting.
As someone who owns a small green business, bright Green Talent, we live this reality daily: Green jobs do exist, but they’re more scarce than the need. Green jobs are hard to clarify and get people into. The basic reality that employment opportunities are dwindling by the day reminds us of just how much this seems like an illusion.
Supply and need for green jobs are wholly out of whack. But is this any surprise given that we are early on in the adoption “S” curve of green jobs? The number of early adopters is large — we’re working with nearly 10,000 job seekers worldwide to find a green career.
On the other side, need for green employees is just now beginning to grow. Without greater government sustain for these thriving new industries — replaceable energy and green building being two good examples — green jobs will keep few and far between. Thankfully, the U.S. administration is calling for green jobs as the path toward health, energy independence and increased wealth. A clear signal from federal leadership can give confidence to a generation of ecopreneurs to pursue both profit and preservation simultaneously.
Back to the People
However, as individuals are forced to reevaluate their specialized priorities or seek new careers as they are let go from those they were following, they are coming in droves to the idea of a “green job.”
however, it’s not really a “green job” they want. They’re not seeking definitional clarity or a certification that their job is thorough (or bright) green. Instead, they’re seeking a new path thoroughly.
So, as to the question of whether and how to measure progress, as Joel indicates, there is some danger in definition. What would be the effects of telling some people that their jobs are not certifiably “green”? Does the desire to measure progress trump the possibility of discouraging people from moving towards this new triple bottom line dream of wealth? Who will we be shutting out and, more importantly, why?
In his speech, Adam Werbach offered up that:
“For 30 years American liberals have defined themselves according to a set of problem-categories that divide us, whether they be racial, gender, economic or environmental. We have spent far less time defining ourselves according to the values that unite us, such as shared wealth, progress, interdependence, fairness, ecological restoration and equality. “
The definition of a “green job” is not nearly as important the fact we have produced a labor market that is bound to a larger movement of wealth and ecological restoration and equality in the pursuit of meaningful work. Adam concluded, “We can no longer provide the laundry list of ‘-isms’ to define and divide our world and ourselves.”
The Silver Lining
To our assistance, we are nearing an inflection point. Consumers are demanding environmentally responsible goods and sets. Citizens are holding governments accountable for their air and water quality. Corporations are identifying new revenue flows. Governments are regulating on what were before considered externalities.
It won’t happen in a day, or probably already months or years. But acting as a nation, across the public-private spectrum, we can and will realize the illusion of green jobs to find better lives and livelihoods.