Ecology Economics

ON his trip out West last week, President Bush proved that love for the environment can help create jobs. Just think of all those political imagemakers now happily employed turning Mr. Bush's speech at the rim of the Grand Canyon into TV ads for the 1992 election. Or those to be paid with the $500,000 he raised at a Portland, Ore., campaign breakfast for Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon, in return for which the president got a Douglas fir seedling symbolizing (as the Oregon GOP chairman put it) that "trees can be cut and then planted and grown again and produce jobs forever." Among that carefully selected crowd of party faithful, Bush was sure to be cheered when he declared that "people need jobs and must not be thrown out of work by extreme environmentalist positions." Who could disagree with that, except perhaps a handful of Earth First! radicals? But the president's statement is simplistic and inaccurate. Simplistic because more timber workers are feeling the effects of mill automation and raw-log exports than are being affected by federal courts and agencies finally upholding the law on land-management and resource protection. Inaccurate because, in the long run, environmental safeguards are very likely to produce more jobs than they cost. "Less damaging ways of producing, consuming, and disposing of goods are fully consistent with the goal of full employment because they tend to be far more labor-intensive," writes Michael Renner, a Worldwatch Institute senior researcher in a report titled "Jobs in a Sustainable Economy." Some examples cited by Mr. Renner: The 10 largest market economies in 1989 spent $170 billion on pollution control, which translates to some 5 million jobs. Twice as many people are now employed in aluminum recycling than in primary aluminum production. The same is true for trash recycling compared with incineration. Renewable electricity generation (solar, thermal, and wind farms) requires many more workers per unit of energy than do nuclear-powered or coal-fired plants. Rail lines and public-transporta tion facilities are more labor-intensive than highway and auto construction. And in the end, even shifting to a more sustainable, less extractive, forestry can lead to new jobs as woodlots are selectively logged, clear-cut areas are rehabilitated, and millions of miles of logging roads are returned to a natural state. Increasingly, labor leaders and union members are seeing (as Renner puts it) that "ecological health and economic well-being are inseparable." A 1990 report by the United Steelworkers of America on that union's future concluded that "in the long run, the real choice is not jobs or environment. It's both or neither." In a column in the Portland Oregonian the day after Bush's visit, Gary Lawhorn (a member of the International Woodworkers of America and the Western Council of Industrial Workers) wrote: "The environmental issues facing us are part of a broad range of social-justice issues labor has historically been involved in." It's clear, however, that many individuals and communities will go through wrenching change as industrialized countries (and eventually less-developed nations as well) move to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. This has been the historical pattern since the Industrial Revolution began. Several things are needed to smooth the transition. First, more should be done to prepare workers for new kinds of employment. At the moment, the United States spends far less on job retraining as a portion of gross domestic product than do most Western European countries. Second, changes are needed in a tax policy that encourages (make that subsidizes) wasteful use of resources, nonrenewable energy, and transportation that pollutes. At the least, level the playing field; better yet, stimulate environmen tally sustainable enterprises through tax breaks. Again, these tend to be more labor-intensive than high-energy, high-capital industries. Some will argue that this is government intrusion, that market forces ought to prevail. But government (that is, politics) has been intervening on behalf of wasteful, polluting businesses for years. Read Perri Knize in the October issue of The Atlantic for an account of how Western lawmakers pushed the US Forest Service to overcut national forests in the 1980s. But what's most needed is political leadership to move the United States toward a more enlightened environmental attitude that expands employment instead of adding to the divisiveness. How's that for the vision thing?

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