As global financial woes dominate the news, and the recession defines more and more people’s lives, is there a “green” lining to the economic meltdown? Many activists, scholars and even government officials are conceding that instead of rebuilding the economy we had, it makes ecological and financial sense to create one that’s more sustainable and equitable. In this vein, I wanted to share a few dispatches from the front lines of the economic recession that have a green(ish) shade. Newsweek reports that in Russia’s Lake Baikal, for instance, polluting industries are slowing down and tourist visits are way up. In Brazil, incursions into the Amazon rainforest by cattle ranchers are slowing, as the price of beef falls (by some estimates by half). In China, as global demand slows, plants are shaving production or shuttering all together. As a result, the skies in many of China’s major cities are clearer than they’ve been in years; the diurnal grayish haze ceding to blue skies.
At the same time, though, the bottom is falling out of China’s recyclables market. Prices are dropping fast and people who make their living from recycling are losing businesses and livelihoods. Shipments of U.S. recyclables are sitting in Chinese ports, unwanted and unloaded. Some U.S. municipalities are reconsidering recycling programs, which used to make money and now don’t. Of course, there’s a green question here: why ship U.S. “garbage” to China anyway, consuming fossil fuels and spewing more pollution in the process? Why not assume the responsibility for recycling recyclables in the U.S. itself, and create green jobs that can’t (and won’t) be outsourced? That task may well fall to Van Jones, founder of Green for All, who’s just moved to the White House Council on Environmental Quality as green jobs advisor. Van thinks in shades of very deep green. Consider his move to DC from California a recession bonus. More green thoughts to come.