It is the economics, damn stupid!

Job creation through green economics will only work bottom-up, says Andile Ncontsa…

A sustainable world that provides a great quality of life for many people and protects the environment is possible.  As many progressive corporates are beginning to realize in transforming for their own survival, we can provide economic opportunities and empower people to be able to better provide for themselves and their families.

In my humble opinion, the starting point to achieve this is to change the rhetoric. Affluent people like to talk about this big crisis, a looming disaster of doom and gloom if we do not do something quickly.

In all this, poor people are always at the receiving end of a tutorial lesson on how to have less sex to prevent an impending population explosion that is fuelling the environmental crisis. It is as if their grinding daily existence of poverty, hunger and disease is not a crisis of proportions in itself. It never occurs to them to realize that poor people did not cause this crisis in the first place.

In changing the rhetoric: for rich polluting people with we need to heighten the doom and gloom mongering, for people living in doom and gloom already, we need to show them through action that there are real opportunities that can be derived from this crisis.

The scale of change needed to subvert the climatic catastrophe we are experiencing cannot succeed unless we adopt an inclusive bottom-up approach that is centered around creating pathways out of poverty for millions of people using opportunities that climate change present. This is the link that has been missing from the conversation about the environment. Poor people have a distinct advantage in this regard in that they are not yet fully beholden on the polluting effects of the previous industrial era, or the lobby groups that sustain them.

Other than the extractive focus of our economy, much the pressure we experience in our economy comes from intense competition from China and India, resulting in adverse job losses in our textiles and manufacturing industries. However, the good thing about a renewable economy is that it will not be Chinese workers providing energy saving advice or putting up solar panels in South Africa or the rest of Africa. It will not be workers in India who will retrofit buildings. The wind that blows in Port Elizabeth can only turn wind turbines in Port Elizabeth. In other words, there is an opportunity here to do work that cannot be outsourced, to send hundreds of our youth to restructured FET (Further Education & Training) colleges to skill them in the green-collar work of the future, as opposed to trying to catch up with the polluting economy of the last century.

The real crisis therefore is about jobs, not so much about the environment. All the big ideas about getting us onto a lower carbon footprint trajectory involve a lot of people doing a lot of work such as providing advice on energy efficiency; manufacturing energy saving bulbs; installation and repair of solar-panels; building windmills; extending the electrification grid; retrofitting buildings that are leaking energy; drilling the Karoo; wastewater reclamation; organic food growing, materials reuse, recycling, etc. This is where new opportunities lie.

There are also immediate opportunities for rural development. Properly implemented, they can serve to stem the migration to cities of under-educated job seekers, which result in the squalor of informal settlements.

An approach that puts poor people ahead of the environment has obvious benefits. For private enterprise, it means investment in creating a powerful consumer base of people who can buy more products. For governments, a constituency of more taxpayers is not something to be sniffed at if they want to remain in power by redistributing more largesse to those who fall in the poverty crack. When you have a customer and a political constituency base in one entity, you have in place the fundamentals for a golden triangle of mutual cooperation between governments, business and civil society, and perhaps, a real crack at the elusive dream of a better life for all.

 Andile Ncontsa is the CEO of Litha Communications