There was a great article in the Mail & Guardian last week about humanity’s long slow suicide under the guise of the green economy – you know, the one that is going to save us all while simultaneously providing lots of new jobs. It reminded me about a theory I have about this promise of jobs that the new green economy is supposedly going to bring us.
I was actually given pause to think about this very issue earlier this year when I was interviewed by Terra Firma and while I ventured some of my thoughts, I don’t think I articulated it clearly enough. So to clarify, here’s my theory as it stands right now…
I believe that the idea/hope/dream that the green economy is going to miraculously provide more jobs is misguided. Yes, it certainly will provide some “new” jobs – but they will be “new” as in new technologies, new skill sets, new approaches, new job descriptions – not “new” as in additional job opportunities.
If we are to look at the industries involved in the green economy we see that they are the very same industries that already exist – energy, agriculture, water, construction, strategy, policy, consulting, waste management etc. The green jobs that we need to build a sustainable economy are not new jobs, they are existing jobs but with new training, new ideas, new understandings.
It’s all about reskilling. Builders will still build, but now they have green criteria to build to. Energy suppliers will still provide energy, but will use renewable sources. Landscape designers will still make pretty gardens, but now they’ll be more aware about water-wise plants and permeable surfaces. Electricians and plumbers will also still do their thing, only now they will install solar power or grey-water systems.
I will concede that there might be some small growth in artisan trade – hands-on work done by people without degrees or even formal education (which is great news for a country like SA) – but I don’t believe these will make a blip on the radar of formal job creation as a whole.
We need to realise that sustainability (and therefore by association, the concept of a ‘green economy’) is not a completely separate “industry”. To see it that way is to show a complete misunderstanding about what sustainability actually is.