The Common Good
May 2009

Why a Green Economy

by Julie Polter | May 2009

Amid deepening poverty and a crashing ecosystem, we need a new way of doing business.

We find ourselves immersed in simultaneous economic crisis and environmental crisis, with crumbling financial institutions and melting polar ice both making higher ground look mighty good. While conservation and care for creation often have been treated by business and industry as luxuries or outright attacks on the bottom line, more and more people are coming to understand that an economy that requires the degradation of the environment and injury to people is untenable. There are other ways to generate prosperity without slowly killing the planet and the people on it.

In the framework of a green economy, things like creating renewable energy sources, making buildings and processes more energy-efficient, cleaning up the industrial messes we’ve made, and doing urban forestry projects are recognized as profitable on multiple levels.

Companies profit financially as they ride new waves of innovation and demand for environment-friendly goods and services and create business models that are sustainable in all senses of the word. People in poverty profit, as they receive training for jobs that both provide a living wage and a vocation with a future. In some cases, those same workers benefit as their new jobs help clean up environmental hazards that had been imposed on them and their families. We all win, as the cumulative changes in energy use and production generated by green businesses help to reduce the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere.

Perhaps this sounds utopian and, despite the wages of climate sin weighing on all of us, too expensive for hard times. But as you listen to some of the green economy leaders we talk with, you’ll see that while they have their ideals, they are also quite pragmatic. They are social entrepreneurs who want to create long-term, self-sustaining change and new businesses—not new forms of charity. They don’t think this will be easy. They simply know it’s too important not to try.

WE FOCUS MAINLY on domestic green economy initiatives in this issue. But the need for rethinking how we build, create energy, and produce goods is most acutely felt in other places in the world. According to Oxfam America, which provided support for this issue of Sojourners, people in developing countries are more than 20 times as likely to be affected by climate-related disasters as those of us in the developed world. As Bill McKibben writes in his article on the 350 campaign, the United States produces a quarter of the world’s CO2. And so, unwittingly, as we contribute to forces causing seas to rise, droughts to linger, and disease-bearing pests to spread, we are killing other people, people with the fewest resources to deal with such disasters and the least hand in causing them.

So what can we do? We can ask for green—not just green-washed—products and services; demand helps create supply. Those with financial means can invest in companies, technology development, and nonprofits that are helping to build the green economy. We can take part in the 350 campaign ( to advocate for this December’s talks in Copen­hagen to produce a real, substantive international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions, with full U.S. sign-on. And we can join Oxfam America and other international relief and development organizations in calling for both a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and for financial aid to help the world’s most vulnerable people adapt to the rapidly changing environment.

Julie Polter is an associate editor of Sojourners.

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