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New Hope For BC

Thursday, June 10, 1999
Northwest Environment Watch

Hope for British Columbia's economy is at hand, and it comes in the form of "green-collar" jobs. That's the message of a new book released today by award-winning author Alan Thein Durning, Green Collar Jobs: Working in the New Northwest.

Green-collar jobs are those that add value without destroying natural resources, providing a long-term economic future. Value-added, low-impact jobs are found in industries such as high tech, healthcare, tourism, environmental technologies, software, and other services. They now account for 60 per cent of jobs in BC and the Northwest and the share is growing rapidly. Durning's book is the first to take a concentrated look at "green-collar" jobs and their comparison with traditional, resource extraction industries. Among the book's notable findings:

Resource industries now provide just six per cent of all BC jobs: less than healthcare by the late 1980's, and below financial and other business services by the late 1990's. Tourism generates two-thirds more jobs than mining in the province and is gaining ground on the timber industry.

Businesses that extract and process natural resources take a toll on the environment vastly out of proportion to their payrolls. The worst-offending industries (including chemicals manufacturing, electric power generation, logging, lumber and pulp milling, and metals smelting and refining) provide fewer than one in ten jobs in BC and the Northwest states combined.

BC's fishing, mining and timber industries have shed 35,000 jobs from their peak in 1981, and their contribution to the income of BC households, adjusted for inflation, has declined by 32%.

More than 10,000 British Columbians work in the fast-growing environmental protection industries, doing everything from recycling to generating solar power. Some 27,000 now work in the declining forestry field.

Most new jobs are in industries that spin wealth not by moving timber or steel, but by moving electrons or stimulating neurons in more profitable ways. "BC has the chance to make the jump from quantity to quality and from volume to value," Durning says. And he suggests that such a focus could feed even more job creation. "Growth industries are drawn to environmentally intact places, places where people want to live," he says.

Durning's book provides the analysis needed for BC to move forward confidently with a new economic plan. It also provides a timely warning: BC will need to manage this sector to ensure benefits are shared. In the Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, green-collar jobs are even more numerous than in BC, but with them have come wider disparities between rich and poor, as well as the many negative environmental effects of rising consumption.

"The best-case scenario is a future that blends advanced technologies with environmental responsibility and equitable distribution of wealth, making BC a global model of sustainability," says Durning.

"Green Collar Jobs: Working in the New Northwest," is published by Northwest Environment Watch, a nonprofit research centre with offices in Seattle and Victoria.

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