What would jobs look like in a sustainable economy, a deep economy, an economy that values human lives and the environment above profit?
For starters, there would be fewer bullshit jobs: jobs that involve pushing papers around with little benefit to actual people. Here are a few types of work that might replace them:
1.) Cooking fresh, affordable meals in cafeteria-style community eateries.
A while back, an XOJane commenter named Lori (previously twoforjoy) started a blog about food justice, and she wrote about the need for this type of food service. Unfortunately, she has since deleted her blog, but her point remains: so many people lack the time, energy, money, skills, and/or access to acquire and prepare healthy food. And even among people who do have access, not everyone enjoys cooking. Community kitchens would provide good jobs for the cooks and servers, affordable and healthy food to the customers, and a space for neighbors to spend time together and build community.
2.) More teachers, full-time professors, child care workers, doctors, and nurses.
Instead of cutting school nurses out of budgets–which leads to tragedies like this one–our governments would value their work. Teachers and caretakers of all stripes would be paid better, which would lead to an increase in their numbers and a decrease in turnover. And with Baby Boomers aging, there would also be a rise in demand for elder care workers.
3.) Tailors who make custom clothing.
As I’ve written before, replacing the fast fashion model with local tailors would both provide good local jobs and high-quality clothing, and end the abuses of workers and the environment that are endemic in the current, mega-corporation-run model.
In some countries, this is already the norm. Afua Hirsch describes the clothing industry in Ghana, where cheap tailors are everywhere.
There are some problematic ideas in her piece, like the oversimplification of eating disorders as an extension of wanting to fit into smaller clothes, and the crack about “pot bellies, muffin tops and over-spilling bosoms” (no, none of those things are inherently bad, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing clingy dresses if that’s what you like). But her overall idea is spot-on, and we in the West would do well to emulate the Ghanian model she describes.
4.) Urban planners, construction workers, and other people working to adapt their areas to the extreme weather caused by climate change.
Unfortunately, even if global carbon emissions were to cease immediately, we’d still be dealing with the effects of climate change for centuries due to feedback loops that are already in motion. In Mark Hertsgaard’s book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, he describes both the challenges that we’re facing and various cities and nations that are already working to adapt to them, such as New York City, the Seattle area, and the Netherlands.
Most places are not doing nearly enough to protect their residents from floods, droughts, hurricanes, and other forms of extreme weather. If local and national governments around the world took a lesson from the ones profiled in Hot, they would prevent a great amount of destruction and human suffering, and create plenty of jobs in the process.
5.) People who design, create, and run 3D printers.
3D printers are an incredibly promising technology that could be used to shift consumption from from globally-shipped items to locally-produced ones, thereby reducing carbon emissions and creating skilled local jobs.
Especially promising is the recent story of an African inventor created a 3D printer out of electronic waste. Can you imagine how much environment-harming waste we could eliminate, and how many jobs we could create, if we put people to work turning e-waste into 3D printers and other technologies?
6.) Designing and implementing wastewater treatment systems, like this amazing one at the Omega Institute.
7.) Upgrading homes and commercial buildings to be more energy efficient.
8.) Collecting leftover food from restaurants, grocery stores, and cafes and distributing it to people in need.
Refood, a non-profit in Portugal, does this, but their collection and distribution is done on a volunteer basis. If a similar organization hired employees rather than using volunteer labor, they could create a great deal of meaningful jobs.
9.) Designing, building, and staffing public transit systems–like this fantasy high-speed rail network.
10.) Growing food.
As Bill McKibben describes in Deep Economy, our current system of food production is reliant on fossil fuel–but it could produce the same amount of, or even more, food if the fossil fuel inputs were replaced with labor.
Getting from our current economic system to one with meaningful jobs for all will take a great deal of both grassroots work and political will (which is hard to imagine right now, when our government in the US refuses to do something so basic as, you know, function.)
Sometimes it feels like banging my head against a wall to keep imagining these win-win situations–wins for the environment, wins for employees, wins for society–that feel so far away, so politically impossible. But we need to imagine a better world if we’re ever going to be able to do the slow, hard work of getting there.