Many years ago, when I was a young environmentalist who had just completed an economics and politics degree, I was pleased to read an article in the Sierra Club journal about jobs and the environment. Amid stunning photos of America’s wild lands was a report on the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by new environment protection and pollution laws. Just as we have seen in the recent federal election, the US debate was about pitching jobs against the environment with polarised politics aimed at stymying progress on saving nature.
In a little publicised study released this year, the NSW Innovation and Productivity Council assessed the environmental goods and services sector. The activities involved include delivering waste, water and energy management; and biodiversity, landscape and climate services. It found the number of jobs generated as 152,000 larger than the total number of jobs in agriculture and mining combined. Importantly a significant number were in regional areas and the vast majority of businesses, small to medium size. With a 6 per cent growth rate, the environmental goods and services sector was already contributing $43.9 billion a year across the economy.
Notably the study did not include tourism jobs, many of which are based on our magnificent natural assets found in national parks. There are more than 50 million visits a year, with Destination NSW finding more than $20 billion is spent on nature based tourism generating tens of thousands of jobs.
So, protecting the environment is not a job destroyer. It’s the opposite. But what has caused this positive situation?
To the chagrin of some on the “let the market run free” side of the political debate – a major influence has been government regulation stimulating investment and innovation. Mandatory renewable energy targets are one example.