So it’s all coming home to roost. Mismanagement of the environment is now going to play havoc with our future weather and therefore, eventually the world economy, concluded world scientists recently.
But can we change our habits of lifetime? Can we do without the benefits of extractive industries and deny the call of consumerism?
And what about those nations dependent on extractive industries for their future development. How will they fare?
There is mounting evidence that environmentally friendly industries can create new employment, according to study by the Worldwatch Institute, Washington DC-based research organisation.
And there’ll be millions more jobs created in the 21st century, if we can get it right, says the report.
It highlights the following business sectors that have developed in the last decade:
? Wind power
In 1999, there were 86,000 jobs worldwide in manufacturing and installing wind turbines, number that’s doubled in the last two years. By 2020, wind power may account for 10 percent of all electricity generation and employ some 1.7 million people.
? Solar power
The American solar industry directly employs nearly 20,000 people now. European solar thermal companies employ more than 10,000 people, number that could grow to 250,000 in the next decade.
The worldwide recycling industry now processes more than 600 million tonnes of materials annually, has an annual turn-over of US$160 billion, and employs more than 1.5 million people.
In the United States, re-manufacturing is already US$53 billion year business employing 480,000 people, double the number of jobs in the steel industry there.
“Jobs are more likely to be at risk where environmental standards are low and where innovation favouring cleaner technologies is lagging,” says Michael Renner, author of the report.
“There’s huge potential to create jobs outside the extractive industries, that is jobs that don’t depend on processing one-way flows of raw materials and turning natural resources into mountains of waste. The challenge is to provide transition for workers who will lose jobs in industries like fossil fuels and mining.”
Boosting the life cycle
“Investing in renewable energy, using energy and materials more efficiently, and designing products to be more durable and repairable, will generate more jobs than continuing to invest in extractive industries and fossil fuels,” says Renner.
Although this means fewer jobs in resource extraction industries and in manufacturing products when goods don’t wear out rapidly, there will be greater job opportunities in repairing, upgrading, refurbishing, and recycling products.
Remanufacturing products when their life cycle would otherwise come to an end typically allows 85 percent or more of the value added – the labour, energy, and materials embodied in the product – to be recaptured.
Boosting the efficiency with which resources are used means that businesses and households save large portion of the hundreds of billions of dollars that would otherwise go into purchasing fuels and materials.
Industries that extract and process energy and raw materials are among the most polluting of human activities, but provide only small, and declining, number of jobs, reports Renner.
In the United States, mining, utilities, and four manufacturing industries (primary metals processing, paper, oil refining, and chemicals) together account for 84 percent of all toxic pollutants released. By comparison, their workforces account for less than three percent of all private sector jobs.
Most mining and logging jobs are at risk even in the absence of tougher environmental laws. Increasing mechanisation and automation have translated into fewer jobs – in some cases even as output continues to rise, the report states.
For example, from 1980 to 1999, US coal extraction rose 32 percent, while employment fell 66 percent. In the European Union’s chemical industry, production grew by 25 percent from 1990 to 1998, but jobs declined by 14 percent.
Job creation is of course, hugely important in the developing world, where most of the population growth is forecast in the coming decades.
“The trouble is that human labour appears expensive, while energy and raw material inputs appear dirt cheap,” says Renner.
“Businesses try to compete by economising on their use of labour. To build sustainable economy, we need to economise on the use of energy and materials instead.”
He points to fiscal policy as powerful tool for increasing the productivity of energy and materials.
“Current tax systems encourage high resource use and discourage job creation. An ecologically-driven reform of tax policy would reduce payroll taxes while simultaneously raising taxes on resources use and pollution.”
This kind of tax shifting started to become reality during the 1990s in number of European countries, including Germany, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Labour unions and environmentalists could work together to build stronger political base for these changes in policy. Environmental dangers often translate into health and safety issues at the workplace.
“But to build an effective coalition with labour, environmentalists must recognise that those workers who are affected – primarily those in mining, logging, fossil fuels, and smokestack industries – will need assistance to master the move to new skills, technologies, and livelihoods,” says Renner.