Mean Green Job Machine

By DiPerna, Paula | The Nation, May 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

Mean Green Job Machine


DiPerna, Paula, The Nation


The presidential campaigns and their armies of consultants are well aware that a jittery American public yearns for jobs. Yet there is a dearth of new thinking on how to create solid jobs in the manufacturing sector, here and now. What's being overlooked is the potential for new job creation through environmental protection. We need an active, large-scale job-creation effort akin to a Green WPA.

Job creation and environmental protection are far from irreconcilable, as many assume; in fact, this idea is feasible and practical. Who would have thought "sheet-metal worker" was a green job, dependent on environmental regulation? But in 2002, pollution-abatement and -control programs created, directly and indirectly, roughly 12,000 jobs for sheet-metal workers, according to Management Information Services, a research firm specializing in data on the environmental industry.

Likewise, who would have thought that Indiana, king of the Rust Belt, had a thriving environmental industry? By 2000 it was generating $4.9 billion in sales, $382 million in profits and supporting roughly 110,000 jobs of all kinds, including manufacturing jobs producing high-efficiency heating, ventilation and cooling equipment; cleaner fiber processing; and equipment for pollution-control scrubbers. Therma-Tru, which manufactures in Butler, is one of the largest US manufacturers of insulated, energy-efficient residential doors.

But do we consider Indiana a "green economy" state? Hardly. While the general public understands the classic environmentalism of saving whales and wildlife habitat, it remains largely unaware of how dependent on environmental management our economy has quietly become. Few would believe that, depending on what definitions are used, the environmental industry has begun to rival the military industry in economic importance, for both blue- and white-collar jobs, before the Reagan-era spike in defense spending and the recent post-9/11 buildup.

Few also realize the jobs potential inherent in ongoing environmental investment, which creates blue- and white-collar jobs, directly and indirectly. Such jobs are created by pollution-control efforts, energy and water conservation and myriad other environmental improvements that villages, cities, states and nations would do well to undertake. It makes more sense to embrace a Green WPA-an Environmental Jobs Infrastructure Investment Act-than to wring our hands about the migration of jobs outside the country.

John Kerry has articulated the jobs and environment link, but even his laudable "new energy economy" project speaks of energy independence by 2020, leaving the impression of a future jobs gain the public should accept on faith. …

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