Sunday, January 10, 2010

Green Business As Usual

Depending on your point of view, the Recession is either chugging along nicely (though cruelly) or it’s showing signs of a cascading collapse. Meaning, the banks we bailed out last year are thriving and many businesses are holding on, but job loss is dreadful. “The pace of layoffs has slowed sharply in recent months, but businesses still cut 85,000 net jobs in December, the Labor Department said.” (U.S. job loss report is blow to still-fragile recovery 1/09/10- washingtonpost.com)

All these job losses make you wonder how we are going to recover our economy. Who is going to buy all that stuff from businesses if most of us are broke, can’t get loans, and are losing our houses? We could ask the rich (who horde a wildly disproportional share of the wealth in our country) to go out and spend more money. But, how many sneakers can even a rich person wear?

The answer could be a greening of our economy, creating new businesses and environmentally friendly business models that would catch the new green wave. Rather it should be the way out of this Recession. Since the beginning of the Recession, there has been a lot of fanfare about retrofitting our economy with green sector jobs—fixing our water infrastructure, conserving energy, creating renewable energy jobs, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions--but, realistically, those still waiting for the green job revolution to sweep them up are going to be very disappointed. They’re going to miss the trickle beneath their feet that was supposed to be a flood. The good news is that the green job revolution is happening, but proceeding so slowly you wouldn’t notice. The bad news is that it’s pretty much business as usual: Bankers, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders got most of our tax dollars in the bailout. The public got extensions on their layoff benefits, but even that is now drying up.

This is our present reality: Businesses are not hiring and training people off the street to help these businesses become environmentally friendly. Grants are granted to those who retrofit and train people who already have jobs. There’s no wave of new jobs, no massive FDR-like jobs programs to restart our economy. There are just the same old craven scams on the Internet and the same old jobs that were out there before the Recession but for some reason never get filled. You can go back to school to get green training but no guarantee of a job. Shell out more money in a desperate time for a slim chance at a job.

Thus, a very neat and quiet Recession. Politicians keep feeling sorry for people out of jobs, and businesses keep battening down their hatches, tossing out their employees, while we ignore the warnings of climate change: “Nearly half of the asset managers surveyed, or 44 percent, said they don't consider emerging climate risks a financial threat to their clients' money.” Does Your Money Manager Worry About Climate Change Risk? The Odds Are 50-50 – 1/07/10 NYTimes.com Doesn’t seem to be a system based on reality or one that is going to thrive any time soon.

It could be different. It could be something other than a slow (but getting faster) steady collapse of the American work force and our environment. Businesses could take a leap of faith in their ability to move to a new economy (that Europe and others are moving to) and retrofit their business to go green, from the top down, inside out. Hire new people and train them to comply with strict environmental standards, making their commitment to sustainability so obvious that we’d all start to feel good again about our future.

Here’s the way I see it: If the public doesn’t drive the new green economy, they won’t get new jobs. The public can drive the new green economy by refusing to buy or invest in companies not going green or vote for any who don’t provide green jobs, or listen to a media that doesn’t tell us what is actually going on.

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