Robots and drones can’t replace us: even more ways to make a living in a green economy

I keep reading articles arguing that we don’t really need human workers anymore, now that machines can produce (and sometimes transport) stuff. It’s often used to call for a basic minimum income, which I support.

But it makes no sense to me. The making of stuff is currently the cornerstone of our economy, but it doesn’t have to be–and it really shouldn’t be, because it’s quite literally unsustainable.

And there’s so, so much work that needs doing–very little of which can be automated.

I’ve already written about twenty ways people could make a meaningful living in a sustainable economy, and I just keep thinking of more. Here are another ten:

1.) Staffing food trucks, especially ones that serve underserved neighborhoods–such as Fresh Food Generation, an exciting new project here in Boston. Food trucks are a great way to provide delicious, healthy food at low prices, since they have less overhead than restaurants, and they can travel to serve different populations.

2.) Picking up food scraps by bike and then turning them into compost, like another new local business, City Compost. If this model became widespread, it could make a huge dent in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by food waste.

3.) Working at haunted houses like the one in this video, and other creative projects that both bring joy to their communities and provide jobs for local young people.

4.) Making processed food products–yes, in the literal sense of the word, which is not inherently a bad thing–such as jam, cheese, butter, bread, baked goods, maple syrup, sauces, dips, canned fruits and vegetables, and candy.

5.) Journalism.

These days, journalism has become a “glamour industry,” one that’s closed to all but the most privileged–but we need the opposite. We need people with diverse backgrounds to report, uncover, analyze, speak truth to power, hold leaders accountable, help us make sense of our world.

6.) Massage therapists, meditation teachers, personal trainers, and fitness instructors who teach everything from aerial acrobatics to Zumba, ballet to burlesque, yoga to water aerobics: to make joyous movement, stress reduction, and physical well-being accessible to as many people as possible.

7.) People who fix things, such as this pop-up repair shop in New York.

8.) Photographers, videographers, event planners, florists, makeup artists, and other local small businesspeople who provide services for celebrations and life events (which I talked about a bit in this post).

9.) Scientists researching diseases and chronic illnesses. There’s so much work still to be done!

10.) Creating organic vegetable gardens in the yards of homes, businesses, and schools, like yet another Boston-area business, Growing for Good. This is a great use of existing resources to build local resilient, sustainable food systems.

Feminist Hulk smash the devaluation of pink collar work: on gender, value, and opportunity

Sarah Kendzior’s latest piece on poverty and workers’ rights is, as always, full of truth. The whole thing is a must-read–seriously, I’ll wait, go read it and then come back–but one part in particular resonated with me:

Teaching, nursing, social work, childcare and other “pink collar” professions do not pay poorly because, as Slate’s Hanna Rosin argues, women “flock to less prestigious jobs”, but because jobs are considered less prestigious when they are worked by women. The jobs are not worth less – but the people who work them are supposed to be. 

I’ve been ranting about this for so many years.

So many of the men in my life have high-paying computer programming jobs, and so many of the women in my life have low-paying teaching and childcare jobs. I’ve worked in childcare myself, and let me tell you, it’s hard.

Having conversations at the toddler level all day is a special kind of mind-numbing. Spending all day in a room full of crying infants is a special kind of nerve-jangling. And sometimes you get peed on. (I learned the hard way to keep everything covered when changing baby boys’ diapers.)

There are the good moments too: when four toddlers are trying to fit in your lap for story time, when you’re out on a walk with the kids and one of them makes an observation and you see so much intelligence, so much creativity, so much promise just beginning to blossom. There are fun times with bubbles and balls and finger paint. There’s a playfulness you don’t get in the average office job.

But overall, it’s incredibly hard work–and vital to a well-functioning society, and laughably underpaid.  Or it would be laughable, if it weren’t so serious an indictment of our nation’s priorities.

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It’s time for a pro-life economy (no, not that kind of pro-life)

From the tragic story of adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko’s death to my own adventures in job insecurity, everything I’ve read and experienced has convinced me that we need a pro-life economy.

Not in the traditional anti-abortion sense (ugh), but in the sense of putting human lives first, and profit second. And since our lives are inextricably tied to the health of our planet, we need to prioritize that too.

We need jobs. Green jobs, well-paid jobs, jobs with benefits (or government systems to provide those benefits).

We need an end to the ideology of infinite growth–which, in a world of finite resources, is quite literally unsustainable–and a focus on human health and happiness.

We need an end to the casual cruelty of corporate capitalism–the callous profit-seeking that allowed an adjunct professor to die penniless, near-homeless, and uninsured while the university’s president received a $700,000 salary.

Bill McKibben succinctly summed up what’s wrong with our economic system in his 2007 book Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future:

Alongside the exhilaration of the flattening earth celebrated by Thomas Friedman, the planet (and our country) in fact contains increasing numbers of flattened people, flattened by the very forces that are making a few others wildly rich.

His observation is even more true now than when he first made it, back in the less-shitty days before the Great Financial Crisis.

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