Opinion: We can grow a robust green economy

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Wind energy turbine construction workers

MATT POLSKY / NJ ENVIRONMENT NEWS – I recently collaborated with students in my Sustainable Economics course at Ramapo College to write a proposal to Governor Murphy for a green economy in New Jersey. “Green economy” and “green jobs” are not new terms, but our proposal takes them in new directions. Typically, green jobs refer to solar and wind installers, recycling and efficiency jobs. But, perhaps surprisingly, conventional green jobs may not be the largest category of jobs in a fuller green economy.

Our proposal offers a vision of what a green economy could ultimately be. The principal purpose of a green economy would be as a creative way to address serious environmental and, increasingly, social problems. It may be the most viable response if environmental and social conflicts, and resource shortages, worsen in the future. Alternatively, New Jersey could decide to lead the U.S. and join much of the rest of the world in pursuing the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. If so, we would need new ways to actually do so.

A big part of the effort is the inclusion of sustainable business, taking advantage of such surprising actions as the establishment of zero-emissions goals, taking actions to conserve biodiversity, CEOs resigning in protest from Presidential Advisory Boards and objecting to U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.

A green economy could become a major goal of economic policy in New Jersey. It could grow to include nearly all sectors and potentially most companies within those sectors. While mostly voluntary, companies that do not choose to participate will in the long run risk competitive pressure from those that do, as well as consumer disfavor.

Another feature is the need to discuss a number of underlying attitudinal obstacles, called “mindset barriers,” which prevent gatekeepers from seriously considering a green economy and other bold new ideas. In addition to a general lack of awareness of sustainable business, another is an apparently widely shared belief that “There is nothing new under the sun,” therefore no need to consider new possibilities. A third is that while there is wide acceptance that “We can have both a clean environment and healthy economy at the same time,” we may not agree on what that means. We don’t try to reconcile what we don’t recognize.

The main recommendation, of many provided, is for the Governor and key senior managers to accept an ambitious and comprehensive goal of, and approach to, a green economy. They should make clear that this is the direction of state economic policy, something no other state has done to this degree.

Read the proposal here and visit greeneconomynj.org for more information on building a green economy in New Jersey.


Matt Polsky is a Ph.D. student in Sustainability at Erasmus University in the Netherlands and has been an adjunct instructor at several New Jersey universities.

4 COMMENTS

    • There are a number of clean energy technologies that don’t depend on rare earth minerals, and yes, the solar PV industry needs to (a) find ways to recycle the components of panels, (b) find better ways to build panels, and (c) take more responsibility for cleaning up their supply chain. But the tragedy at Baotou needs to be compared with the disaster at the Alberta Tar Sands, coal tailings contamination in the U.S., etc. The problem is not with the idea of clean energy, but with our overall approach to energy production and ecological restoration.

  1. Sylvia: While I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “for whom,” certainly “costs” are always a valid point–as long as you’re also considering the externalities of conventional energy mentioned by Jonathan. Regarding your concluding point, yes, of course you are right that the environmental problems of even clean technologies are relevant. I do talk about this in class, and the students are always surprised. Yet there are no perfect solutions. Even efficiency, the single best approach, has the potential for the Jevons Paradox, or Blowback Effect of increased energy use elsewhere in the system, which really stuns the students. However, having recognized the potential, we then we talk about to minimize the blowback.
    Regarding “deserving a place in the report,” again, you are not wrong. Some commenters mentioned a few other things missing, but such a report, while very comprehensive, could not cover everything. There’s actually a Table in it showing what is not covered, but could be added later if there is sufficient interest in the main point to pursue an aggressive green economy. To that list could certainly be added problems such at Baotou.
    In a way though, it did. I note that coincidentally (I assume), there was another article at about the same time on the same exact thing. This one emphasizes the need for much better design, at a number of areas of the system, to address this problem, and how that’s starting to happen. The Report actually emphasizes green design directly in one key section, and indirectly in a couple of others. Here’s this other article on Baotou: https://www.cleanenergyleaders.org/the-dirty-side-of-clean-energy-technologies-a-call-to-action/.
    If you want, I can send you another article I did just on green design.
    Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Matt, I’m working my way through the paper your students wrote and its appendices, written by you. There are many sound ideas there, so kudos to both you and your students.

    I applaud you for continuing to chip away at resistance to implementing sustainability practices as clearly, it’s really important for society to do this. And also for not giving up on making a career out of doing so. You were ahead of the curve in your knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, this field but the world is catching up to understanding the need for sustainability.

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