What Does it Tell us?
The Students’ section discussed the Green Economy, Green Jobs, Green Growth and some of their connections. It also gave a couple of definitions of the former. As there is no standard way to look at this, it is worth exploring more deeply how others have seen these. We could use this to pull out some insights that could be useful for conceiving and developing a green economy in New Jersey—even if it doesn’t tell us everything. It may also inform us about some pitfalls to try to avoid.
Lester Brown, an environmental giant (and Rutgers graduate), has some unique insights on the “shape of” the green economy, although he used his own term: “eco-economy:”
- “An economy is sustainable only if it respects the principles of ecology”
- “A sustainable economy respects the sustainable yield of the ecosystems on which it depends…”
- “The value of [ecosystem] services needs to be calculated and incorporated into market signals if they are to be protected…”
- “…relying on distorted market signals to guide investment decisions is a recipe for disaster”
- “…we have little choice but to systematically restructure the global economy…there is no precedent for transforming an economy…”
- “We will not succeed with a project here and project there…we do not have a strategy for the systematic economic change that will put the world on a development path that is environmentally sustainable.”
- “…shift taxes from income to environmentally destructive activities…”
- “Building an eco-economy will affect every facet of our lives…it will give us a world where we are a part of nature, instead of estranged from it”
- “…will contrast profoundly with the polluting…ultimately self-destructive economy of today…”
- “…as it shifts from the linear economic model….to the reuse/recycle model…closed loop system…” “yielding no waste…”
- “… [will be] bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly…”
- While “somewhat speculative…however it is not as open-ended as it might seem because…broad outlines are defined by the principles of ecology”
- “No sector of the global economy will be untouched…” (Brown, 2001).
Some of this we’ve seen in the Students’ report. We can see how different this economy would be compared to where we are now. Among other key points, our economics would be heavily influenced by ecological thinking. While there’s a lot we don’t know, Brown gives us some valuable guidelines.
Bowen (2012) gives us a few definitions and perspectives of green growth:
- “…steady increases in output without adverse environmental consequences”
- Citing the World Bank (2012), “…is efficient in its use of natural resources, clean in that it minimizes pollution and environmental impacts…” and is “inclusive”
- “…consistent with the development of the ‘weightless economy,’ in which a much higher proportion of economic activity is dependent on the generation of new ideas and a much lower fraction on the throughput of physical resources” (Note this one is different than the first definition.)
- “…green’ growth is likely to be the only sort of growth that is feasible in the very long run” (Bowen 2012).
Again we see there is not just one view about green growth or the economy, but, also again, we are offered some clear guidance, including a very important one…in the long-run, we don’t have much choice.
Finally, it might be useful for a somewhat bigger picture look at other green economy initiatives than is typical. This was done by Peters, Eathington, & Swenson (2011) who looked at a number of reports and green economy initiatives around the country, including some of their “numbers,” as well as methodological issues around defining them and their jobs impact. It brought out some factors not usually seen on this subject:
- Citing the U.S. Department of Commerce (2010), it offers one definition of green products or services: “those that conserve energy and other natural resources and those that reduce pollution.” One definition of green jobs used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics are those “in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production process more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources”
- “Current green economy rhetoric implies that this transformation (to the green economy) is inevitable, linear, and reasonably predictable. In reality….will be influenced by both policy and market forces, which may work to thwart or delay expected changes”
- Studies of the number of projected green jobs have used different methodologies and are not easily comparable. They find the green jobs growth expectations of at least one study “overly optimistic,” and complain “there is little academic research…and very few peer- reviewed studies defining green jobs or the green economy…”
- It may not be a valid assumption that what this Proposal is calling conventional green jobs are the biggest source in the green economy. Citing one study by Global Insight (2008) using a somewhat expanded view, found “Renewable Power Generation” to be only 17% of them in 2006. In their definition, “Engineering, Legal, R&D, and Consulting” counted as green jobs, and made up almost 56% that year. Citing a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts (2009), found “Clean energy” and “Energy efficiency” together, with the latter including “white collar technical and management…” at 22%. Many more green jobs were in “Conservation and Pollution Mitigation.” Pew did have Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency growing faster than other “Clean Jobs,” but not nearly as fast as “Environmentally Friendly Production,” which grew 67% in its planning forecast (1998 to 2006)
- Other methodological and conceptual issues are that some “firms produce mixes of goods,” some of which are not necessarily “clean,” or may have “shades of green” (which one study tried to account for), and “not all of the green occupations are created equal.” This means that some “tend to have lower-than-average wages compared to the current all-occupation average.” This isn’t necessarily all bad news, especially for entry level employees (although the question of a subsequent career path remains). Citing the UNEP/ILO/IOE/ITUC (2008), the Green Jobs Initiative, a Labor-sponsored group, found “both positive and negative social and economic consequences.” As an example of the latter, the quality of green jobs in some sectors, such as biofuels (assuming you want to count that) “are evaluated less positively on the decency scale”
- It also looks like green jobs opportunities in rural areas will be less than in metropolitan areas, although studies of agriculture are “somewhat contradictory,” and with one exception (i.e. “small, organic heirloom crops farms…with great expansion potential”) did not appear to include the possibilities mentioned in the Students’ section on Agriculture or in Appendix III. Then there’s the biomass issue again, plus (at least in conventional agriculture) as farming gets more efficient over time, there can be less employment. On the other hand, while not a focus of this Appendix, there is the wind potential in some rural areas
- There’s also the possibilities of underestimation. Estimates and projections may miss indirect effects of green jobs (i.e. secondary job creation through them), “potential advances in technology…,” and possibly “the emergence of new occupations…” (although two studies tried to account for these). The O*NET Resource Center projects “45 new occupations are expected to emerge, either as completely new occupations or as offshoots of existing occupations.”
Looking at all of this, including these last three references summarized, what are some conclusions about green economies, how does this help us better understand it and its potential, and how to encourage and develop it?
- No other states, or anyone else, are taking as comprehensive a view of a green economy, including CSR as part of it
- Farming is not usually mentioned (although there have been some exceptions)
- We’re not going to achieve substantial improvements to sustainability without it
- It’s largely missing from the relatively new attention in New Jersey to climate change, but we’re not going to achieve ambitious carbon reductions without an expanded version of it (that is, beyond conventional green jobs, which does come up)
- If the State of New Jersey does become interested again in serious, comprehensive pursuit of sustainability as a major policy goal, some of the measures to get there might be politically painful once the easier measures are taken. Greening of economy measures are usually not politically biting; so the more of these, the less unpopular measures may be necessary
- Green economy initiatives are not automatic successes and green jobs will not always be panaceas. The “job creation” argument, while still valid, should probably be secondary even though this is not the typical way they are discussed. But job projections are too uncertain, extremely dependent on definitions and what is included in studies. Methodologies are not standardized, and depend a lot on continuing policy choices and their implementation (which can push them up). Methodologically, there should probably be a deduction for non-green jobs lost, although this is not usually done. Plus, conceptually in the long-run, if “all jobs will be green” as overall greening proceeds (see below), it will be increasingly questionable to separate them out from any other job growth. And in the medium- long-run, if green growth is the best, least painful way to preserve economic growth, it may be the only way to avoid a very difficult, painful ideological fight about “growth.” Further, green jobs are not always going to be great jobs, although perhaps that was an unrealistic expectation during a past era when green jobs were getting a lot of attention, and even non-great jobs can be important (albeit with caveats). A “number” for green jobs seems less and less meaningful
- Certainly estimates of green jobs may be made, but the limitations of methodology understood and used more as guides for policy planning and evaluation, instead of taken literally. There are reasons to criticize some studies for being over-optimistic, or the overly easy solution to periods of major unemployment, but there are also reasons that actual jobs could be much higher than projected, too
- All of the above studies’ views of a green economy were much less comprehensive than in this Appendix
- So, the main argument for the green economy is as an unexpected, unlikely way to help us address severe environmental and social problems—although, all the other reasons for it remain valid.
Philosophically, what sectors belong in a green economy, how can this question be looked at, are there better and worse ways of belonging, and how could we build towards a description of the most ambitious, but not impossible goal? Here’s one interpretation that could be considered as guidelines and revised as future discussions ensue:
- Companies don’t have to be perfect practitioners of sustainable business, but they should aware of their deficiencies, be thinking about how to improve, and then continue that improvement
- Certainly, the traditional clean and green products (renewable energy, EPA-certified green cleaners, electric vehicles powered by renewable energy) are the easy call, even if they, too, are not perfect
- While there is some likely limit to how far the greening of the economy could be extended in terms of sectors, actual expression of it conceivably could go all the way up to that limit
- To start the discussion, traditional environmental thought might say sectors which are over that limit—although arguments can be made to the contrary, are any fossil fuels, ethanol, resource recovery, nuclear power, GMOs. (Certainly we’re seeing more and more arguments that nuclear energy is needed to address climate change, including from some environmentalists, some of whom have also turned around on GMOs.) Toxic products, products which emit potentially harmful radiation, and plastics also deserve their own discussion, such as under what circumstances, if any, can they be considered still acceptable because they provide essential benefits and have no substitutes. Nanotechnology can be seen as sustainable (DiNapoli, n.d.), but not all will see it that way. This is not likely a complete list of arguably inherently unsustainable sectors. The social area would bring up more unsustainable candidate sectors, including whether there are ways to avoid that characterization
- Even those sectors deemed inherently “unsustainable” should be encouraged to take any environmentally and socially beneficial actions they could
- Somewhat similarly, for those sectors making products not thought inherently unsustainable, but with problems, perhaps the use of a toxic in a product which is increasingly suspected of being a carcinogen, or an endocrine-disruptor, it may be possible to make greener versions
- It could also be argued that even the more traditional environmental pollution control, clean-up and remediation, water filtration systems, lead and mold clean-up sectors could still be included in a larger green economy
- Perhaps we can say we should be open to having a “big green tent,” (thanks to Marty Rosen for that one) but not one that has to include every sector, or every company
- There are levels of it and gray areas. Some sectors seem more at home in a green economy than others even if the latter can stake a credible claim, particularly if they make improvements that reduce any objectionable element. Similarly, individual companies can be at various stages in their level of greening.
A tentative vision, putting together all these steps, is offered in the “Conclusions” section.