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OECD Forum 2010 Green jobs: Myth or reality?

26 May 2010

The photo below from the Wildverband web site sums up a lot of the issues debated in this wide-ranging session.

These children are recycling waste. Are they doing a green job?  If we admit that they are, then that prompts another question. Does defining this as green make it any better?

The second question is easier to answer. Nobody would justify child labour on a rubbish dump by saying it’s good for the planet. Another way to look at it is to say that underlying the notion of green jobs is the idea that they’re “better” than other jobs from the standpoint of sustainability, and that means not just the environment, but social and economic aspects too.

One idea on which there was consensus was that if green jobs means anything, it’s as part of a revolutionary change in the way the economy is organised – in how goods are produced and how they are consumed.

In Denmark, for instance, the government decided to promote the windpower industry, and the country is now a world leader in windmills. So you could say that the workers building them are in green jobs. But what about the steelworkers who make the masts and other parts? Their factories may be highly polluting, but their end product is designed to reduce pollution.

One suggestion was that the real debate is not about green jobs, but about what progress means, and the fact that this involves tradeoffs, perhaps of material wealth for other forms of well-being.

As I said at the start, the session was wide-ranging, with more questions than answers:

Will the fact that the babyboom generation is retiring make the economy greener?

Will all the green jobs go to China, and does it matter?

Can policy makers promoting green jobs be smarter than the markets or will green jobs just be white elephants?

2 Responses
  1. Harvey Jackson permalink
    May 27, 2010

    I appreciate this thought. Somehow we seem to think “green jobs” are new, glamorous and high paying, whereas most of them are probably just like these kids picking through the landfills. On the high end of that market, we may one day have a few hundred biological engineers managing enormous populations of synthetic organisms and microbes created in Craig Venter’s laboratories doing the jobs of millions of such children whom we would otherwise never pay enough or care for. These children should be in school, not doing the work of microbes. If these landfill kids really are our environmental hopes the future, then I say give up – we’re doomed.

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