Sunday, November 4, 2007

Community Economic Development and Green Jobs

Roseland brings up the concept of “non-monetary transactions,” (169) in his “Community Economic Development” chapter, promoting a cultural mindset shift away from traditional economic goals. He gives examples of bartering and non-material transactions such as child- or elder-care offered by friends and neighbors. I was reminded of a tactic used by Habitat for Humanity, which I learned on the job when I was working as a case manager with homeless families. At the Habitat orientation, the required hours of “sweat equity” seemed to make several of the potential applicants nervous. One of the women in the audience asked how she would possibly be able to find and afford additional child-care to what she already had during the week while she worked. The Habitat staff explained that they encourage the new residents to trade off watching each other’s children while putting in their hours in constructing their homes. And as an additional way to facilitate and encourage this “non-monetary transaction,” Habitat deducts the hours worked from both the family doing the construction and the family providing the child-care. I found this to be an extremely efficient and effective way of building sustainable community (although I did not know those terms at the time I learned about it!).

Roseland brings up some examples of the increasingly popular strategy of community economic development; “micro-enterprise loan programs” (170). Micro-lending is made possible by “financial intermediaries” who give small loans to low-income entrepreneurs who would not otherwise be eligible for such loans due to not having any collateral. These programs are generally organized as lending circles, where borrowers receive guidance from others who have successfully repaid loans and started their own businesses in the past. I am curious about the strategies of these “lending circles,” as an employee from Alternatives Credit Union who gave a presentation in a class I was in last semester mentioned that these types of lending circles are not as successful in the U.S. as they are in many foreign countries.

While Roseland admits that the transition process into a more sustainable economy will “produce many losers,” he asserts his confidence that this consequence will be far outweighed by the “winners” (174) when it comes to jobs. Something that worries me, however, is that it seems possible that order of events in this transition process will be first: losers lose, second: winners win. I’m definitely no economic genius, (by any means!) but I’m just thinking that in order for many of these new jobs to be created, the money has to be there to pay the salaries, and so something has to give… is it jobs from the losers? Meaning that; although the winners may have the potential to outnumber the losers, society’s sense of confidence would be severely dented by the decline in “brown” jobs. There’s a good chance I don’t know what I’m talking about here – please feel free to let me know!

In his “Rethinking Economic Development” section, Roseland provides some “tools” for how we can start changing things. He gives the example of “Buy Nothing Day,” (183) which is November 29th, and entails that if a critical mass of would-be-consumers choose not to buy anything on that day, this would reduce waste and output of pollution by staggering amounts. While I am a big fan of the idea, I have heard the argument that this strategy has proven to be ineffective, because unfortunately, the message of “consume less” is not what people take from it. The problem is, whatever people don’t by on November 29th, they will go out and buy on November 30th. Right?

I chose to read the “Community Jobs in the Green Economy” report as my second reading. I found the Foreword to be extremely inspiring, and to those of you who are the “commenters” this week, I would recommend reading at least that page. I am completely in love with the simplicity and poignancy of this statement:“The national effort to curb global warming and oil dependence can simultaneously create good jobs, safer streets, and healthier communities. That is the chief moral obligation in the 21st century: to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty” (1).

Again, my brain refused to venture into the world of economics, so I may be missing something here, but I felt like there was an integral piece missing from the Green Economy report. The report provides numerous examples of green jobs that will be available with new green technologies; however, it is not clear where the financial backing will come from to employ all of these people. I think it’s semi-obvious that jobs in renewable energies will be paid for in the same fashion as energy is currently paid for – by the user to the energy companies. However; I am worried after hearing the example that (I think) Melanie gave in class of the energy company whose rates dropped so dramatically when they switched to renewable energies that they had to raise them again in order to sustain, and how the consumers were extremely angry about this. So my questions are (1) where will the money come from to pay these green workers: and (2) what sort of regulation would keep the capitalist mentality from negating the benefits?

In general, I feel that in the majority of what we are reading, as idealistic as it seems, is not idealistic enough when it comes to a much needed cultural shift regarding capitalism. The Green Economy report is structured around ways that “every city and community in the United States has some potential to capitalize on this new economy” (19). I’m just frustrated with the acceptance of money as the only driving force for change. I just wish there was more talk on how to start making people realize that money doesn’t equal happiness. Everything in this report is about how everyone can make more money – but there is nothing about how this will require some people who have been at the top of the spectrum of wealth to take a (big) pay cut.

I also appreciate the “cynicism is the problem, not the solution” comment from the Foreword. While being critical thinkers is of extreme importance, it is only helpful if it’s paired with the bravery to be a little idealistic, and take a chance on some unconventional ways of thought and practice.


Melanie said...

You raise some really good questions about how society can transition from "brown" to "green" economies without having negative initial impacts on jobs, pricing of essential services and consumer confidence. I did tell the story of how Toronto Hydro is now scrambling to cover its costs after successfully getting energy consumption significantly lowered through conservation programs. Here is a link to a CBC article about this issue:

After I mentioned this example in class a couple of weeks ago, I read of some strategies to prevent this type of thing from happening in The Apollo Alliance's New Energy for Cities guide. Although this was from last week's readings, I think it relates to how our economy can transition into new technologies, particularly when it comes to the economics of energy production.

What happened at Toronto Hydro and what is common with many other power companies is that they face a conflict of interest when trying to push for energy conservation. After the blackout of the summer of 2003 left all of Toronto and 50 million people in the Northeast without power, the Toronto Hydro company has been agressively promoting energy conservation -particularly during the heat of the summer. Toronto Hydro realized that it couldn't handle the massive power demands during peak times when air-conditioning usage was high. The successful conservation efforts have meant that the hydro-electric companies are selling less power and making less money. One of the strategies that The Apollo alliance suggests is decoupling, or the regulation of energy prices so that as volume goes up, energy prices drop and vice versa. This method is supposed to make demand irrelevant and pricing fair, but I am very sceptical of this theory. Decoupling completely eliminates the incentive to save money through power conservation. Toronto Hydro promoted its energy conservation programs in part by telling people that they would save money while helping to be more environmentally-conscious. Perhaps the rate hikes that Toronto is now facing would not seem like such a slap in the face if the demand side managemment conservation campaign had not been partially centered on consumer savings. However, at the early stages of our energy conservation movement, it seems like we need to provide some consumer savings in order to get people interested in cutting their power usage.

Roseland's chapter on Community Economic Development states that energy conservation can have an economic multiplier much higher than energy consumption, but the Fox River sock company example that is given only has an economic multiplier effect of $2.32 per every $1 spent on energy conservation because the company was allowed to keep the savings from their energy conservation and recirculate it in the community. Does conservation still have an economic multiplier if decoupling is used to offset savings in energy conservation? I doubt it.

One of the few strategies that The Apollo Alliance suggests that might actually help alleviate the conflict between demand and pricing for energy companies were Feed-In Tariffs and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Both these strategies encourage energy companies to invest in sustainable power generation. The RPS in Columbia, Missouri requires the city to get 2% of its power from renewable sources. The city will continue to increase that percentage in incremental levels as time goes by..

Feed-In Tariffs are apparently unpopular in North America but have been quite successful in Europe. They put a small tax on standard energy producers and give the money to buy power from sustainable power sources at an above-market price. The province of Ontario is curently using Feed-In Tariffs to purchase solar and wind power from small producers (particularly farmers, cooperatives and native Canadian reserves) at attractive rates in order to encourage a diverse energy supply grid.

While energy conservation strategies can be a great start to a sustainable economy, there will continue to be trouble when energy supply is still driven by large-scale supply and demand economics. I see more potential in strategies like Feed-In Tariffs and RPS because they encourage more diverse energy options and small-scale production that can put energy production in the hands of individual property owners and smaller organizations. This kind of investment can have enormous paybacks not only through economic diversification but also with increased community involvement in power supply and respect for renewable power production and energy conservation.

Mrs. Optimism said...

Your blog entry was inspiring to me because it managed to be both critical and optimistic. Many of the questions that you raised in your blog entry resonated with me because I too shared similar questions. While reading Roseland’s chapter, his suggestion of using non monetary transactions as a tool for establishing sustainable economic development was interesting. I too had a real example of how this type of bartering system can be successful and productive. While in Tanzania, this past summer, I volunteered at UKUN, a non-government organization that provided home based care and treatment to HIV/AIDS patients in the community. Many of the patients at UKUN were referred by the local hospital. Representatives and volunteers would travel to nearby treatment centers to register patients that had traveled to the hospital, but were ineligible for treatment. These representatives would then visit the homes of these patients to provide the care and treatment that they did not receive from the local hospital. In the same way, UKUN also acted as a referral and counseling center, sending patients who were ineligible for aid from UKUN to local hospitals. While volunteering at UKUN, I spent many hours visiting the homes of HIV/AIDS patients. Each of these families was forced to use the informal system of bartering that Roseland speaks about in his chapter on sustainable economic and community development. In every home that I visited there was a neighbor or friend who was caring for the patient and in most cases these caregivers were providing their services as “payback” for a good or service that the patient had provided for them in the past. This example slightly differs from the ones provided in the reading, in that the patients did not expect to get sick and need the services of their neighbors or friends, but one can definitely argue that the patients were well aware that at some point in their lives they would need the favors that they had given repaid. I think that the informal economic relationships established in communities in the global south are real examples of how sustainable communities are realized.

In this case, the lack of monetary investment is stopping the community (and other poverty stricken communities in the global south) from realizing their potential, which goes back to your issue, Melissa, with the importance of money. It is extremely cliché to insert the dictum “money makes the world go round”, but I feel that in this case it is appropriate. Money is an incentive, possibly one of the greatest incentives in the world, because we live in a society where without money we are stagnant. Money limits movement and progress, so that those who have it don’t want to give it up and those who don’t have it fight tirelessly to get it. Therefore, when discussing how a particular social change affects an individual it is imperative to also discuss how it affects the individual’s pocket. As my pseudonym suggests, I am just as optimistic as I think that you are and I think that at some point in time, people will support sustainability simply because it’s the best way to do things. In the mean time we have to be realistic and I think that’s exactly what Roseland is doing – being realistic. He is addressing the issues that make people pay attention –unfortunately that issue is money.

Also, in your blog entry, you talked briefly about your curiosity in micro financing lending programs. While in Tanzania, I also had an opportunity to work at a women’s group that had started a micro financing program. I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the micro financing program in the United States as it compares to foreign countries, but I can say that at Bawodene Women’s Group in Tanzania the women were plagued by the lack of financial support and information. These women were at the most fundamental level of establishing their program, but it was extremely exciting to watch and aid these women in their endeavor. I think that this program and programs like it should definitely be supported as a tool for sustainable community development. It not only creates jobs by supporting locally owned businesses but it also creates a sense of community by making residents stakeholders.

GoForTheTop said...

The above two commenters brought up very interesting points and I learned a lot from reading the comments...

About Money:
I think that the idea behind Buy Nothing Day is to really think about what it is that you mindlessly buy on a daily basis. Do we really think about what we buy anymore? In this opulent society we think of the things we buy as necessities, when really we could live without them. I remember reading an article last year about how a group of people committed to not buying anything new ( except food and underwear) for a full year. They learned how to refuse, reduce, re-use, dumpster dive, recycle, barter, share and generally evaluate what they really need in their lives. I found this inspiring because our "consumerism" (in quotes because we almost never fully consume anything... think about an apple you do not consume it all--ever. so it is with most of the rest of our goods)
drives us to go out and buy when really we can change the way businesses are run simply by deciding to buy from them or not. Think of Wallmart-- their sales revenues have actually gone down recently because of all the years of boycotting. They are also offering "Greener" products.

So, when it comes to money, I think we need to realize its importance while minding our valuation of what we use it for. Why don't we all upgrade our "needs" to preferences? That is really what we mean when we have a roof over our head, clothing for weeks and food in our cupboards.

Asrana said...

There exists the possibility for a green revolution on multiple levels of experience. When author of the "Community Jobs in the Green Economy" identified how green jobs would raise some people up, but undoubtedly there would be winners and losers, what they were really saying, is that the green economy would be a modification of the same wheel. Maybe chrome. Maybe even spinners. But you still need the wheels to keep the bus moving. Now, the point I am trying to make is that the green economy will no more lift people out of poverty than the current economy we have, there will just be a redistribution of wealth, but stratification will remain the social norm.

While it may be difficult to fathom, there could be alternate realities. One such movement, the hippie movement of the 1960s and 1970s, was a rejection of current capitalistic society, and these individuals were seeking an alternate way of life. The one problem was that they couldn't adequately define that alternative way of life, such that it eventually sputtered out until it was only nostalgia.

The current "green movement" is very different from any shift in cultural or social awareness, as it maintains the current societal structure, working within the bounds of present-time existence to make new and different profits.

While the bottom line of this is that it is indeed helpful to the environment, as there exists a point wherein companies must deliver on their promises and move past green washing, it isn't in any long-term scenario beneficial to social justice or social equality. But, to not get carried away in expecting Lake Woebegone, there will always be winners and losers, even in a society not based on the dollar. What "winning" and "losing" mean, though, could be very different.

Squonk said...

Your example from your work with habitat for humanity was both interesting and informative. While I agree with the above comment stating there will always be winners and losers, that does not mean that some of the losers can't have some more winnings. The idea of bartering for goods not in the way of chickens and goats, but mostly in time is not only helpful, but also practical and in my opinion realistic (as shown from the examples).

As far as jobs and money go, although the switch from brown to green jobs seems promising in creating more jobs there are other issues to consider. Many movements in the past have also claimed increase in jobs (many big corporations used this as an in to different communities) this does not mean that it happened, in many cases it was the opisit. Jobs were taken away, or they were temporary. Maybe I'm overlooking something of not looking at it the right way, but this seems strongly the possibility with the green economy as well. How stable and long term are these jobs that are being created? Is there enough work and transition to be done (or people are currently willing to have done) for these jobs to be long term?