The Worldwatch Institute’s recently released report, Green Jobs: Working for People and the Environment, outlines impressive growth projections for the environment sector. The author notes that “climate proofing” the global economy will create great employment opportunities worldwide. Could investment in a greener economy propel us toward a more sustainable future and deliver us from our economic quagmire?

In this issue of Alternatives, we look beyond the notion that small is necessarily beautiful. We consider instead the appropriateness of scale as it relates to issues of the environment, health and security in sectors ranging from agriculture to mining. Although we do not specifically explore the impact of scale on job creation, many of our articles point toward a shift in employment opportunities associated with local agriculture and small-scale renewable energy.

Having recently left the environment beat at the Toronto Star, Peter Gorrie explores how Ontario’s venture into renewable energy stacks up against the behemoths of nuclear power and coal-fired electricity generation. As one of the first North American jurisdictions to employ feed-in tariffs to stimulate the market, Ontario’s experience with small-scale energy is breaking new ground.

Saleem Ali, a professor from the University of Vermont, describes the pitfalls of small-scale mining in the developing world, while Peter Andrée, who teaches at Carleton University and has contributed to Alternatives in the past, takes a big look at small- and medium-scale agriculture. “It doesn’t make sense to replace Southern Ontario orchards with Durum wheat,” he writes, “just so that Toronto has access to local grain as some advocates of localism might suggest.”

Rounding out our analysis of scale are Elaine Morin’s engaging description of a pair of Saskatchewan prairie farmers’ conversion to backyard gardening, Valerie Snarr’s candid take on horse-powered logging, and Louise Guénette’s insights into how one Ecuadorian organization’s focus on the popular Panama hat is proving to be a good fit.

Next up is Rick Hyndman. The senior climate change policy advisor to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary, Hyndman puts his industry’s ideas on carbon pricing to paper. The issue, he says, is far more complex than a simple choice between a carbon tax and carbon trading. Meanwhile, David Kendall’s tale of greed and environmental recklessness on the Pacific island of Nauru foreshadows where the world seems to be heading.

With the return of a Conservative government not known for having progressive environmental policies, a new environment minister from Alberta, a disintegrating economy and snow on the horizon, one could be forgiven for feeling a certain amount of concern for the future. But with Barack Obama in the White House and so many businesses now promoting the “greenness” of their products and services, the time is ripe for a fundamental change in how we view the world. As the Worldwatch Institute’s report points out, our governments should shift their focus and begin to invest in climate proofing our economy.

So I suggest: Ask not what the economy can do for the environment, but what the environment can do for the economy.

Nicola Ross is executive editor of Alternatives Journal.

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