Socialist Worker

Create jobs and save the planet

Jonathan Neale sets out the case for a radical solution to unemployment – creating a million new jobs to tackle climate change

Issue No. 2141

We face two global crises. The planet’s climate is in peril and the world economy is going down the tubes. There is one answer to both crises – and it starts with climate jobs.

To avoid runaway climate change, we need global cuts in carbon dioxide emissions of at least 60 percent. But the poor countries of the world are still trying to develop, and the world’s population is increasing slowly.

That means we need cuts of at least 80 percent in the rich countries. And we need them fast. We will never do that by giving up plastic bags or by concerned people examining their own energy use.

If we keep making energy in the same way, these cuts would mean a catastrophic fall in standard of living.

That isn’t going to happen voluntarily. But if we changed how we make our energy, we could get the carbon cuts we need without enormous sacrifice.

That means we have to stop using oil, gas and coal. Instead, we should cover the world with wind turbines, solar panels and concentrated solar power machines.

We have the technology to do this now – and we can do it in five years. Insulating buildings and developing public transport would also help tackle climate change. And we can do that in five years too.

These climate jobs would mostly be work for manual workers. They would be real investments in the future – not throwing money at the banks.

Right now the “economic stimulus” plans are not stimulating the economy. The bankers are using them to cover their losses, and nothing more than that.

We already have two million unemployed in Britain, according to the government figures – three to four million in reality.

The economic stimulus we need is not tax cuts or loans that may or may not produce jobs. We need jobs. And that means the government should create jobs directly, rather than messing around with financial instruments.

There’s a myth going round that says the Great Depression of the 1930s was cured by Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. It wasn’t. The Depression went on and on – what ended it was the Second World War.

That war created millions of jobs in the US, Britain, Germany and all over the world. Every great power redirected its whole economy to recruit soldiers and make as many weapons as possible to kill as many people as possible.

We have to do the same – but to save lives, not waste them.


Most people in Britain know that Gordon Brown’s banking bailouts are just about rescuing his friends in big business. They are massive government interventions that don’t even work on their own terms – they don’t rescue the banks.

We need to propose a simple alternative plan. The government and the Bank of England expect another million jobs to go in Britain this year.

Let’s say the government hires a million people this year to start work on saving the planet.

Pay them an average of £30,000 each and that’s £30 billion a year – hardly anything compared to what’s been thrown at the banks.

If we spend as much again on importing materials, that’s still only £60 billion a year.

And we get income back for a generation, taxes paid, benefits saved – and human dignity not wasted.

The British and US governments say that this can’t be done, because public works need to be “shovel ready”.

That phrase means more of the same – building roads and airports to destroy the planet, instead of taking the radical steps needed to save it.

Instead, let’s hire the people first and put them to work. When the US joined the Second World War, the government immediately shut down all car production.

Within three months those factories were open again – employing more workers – but had planes and weapons rolling out the door.

The same can be done to build new wind turbines, solar power, railways, trains and buses. This makes sense to everyone. If the British government did it, it would light a beacon. People all round the world could demand that their governments do it too.

But it won’t be easy to make our politicians take this step. We need a national campaign for a million climate jobs, backed by trade unions, NGOs and political parties.

But that needs to be linked to local fights, so that every factory or workplace facing obliteration can occupy and shout out – “give us the jobs that will save the world.”

Jonathan Neale is the author of Stop Global Warming – Change The World, available for £10 from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, phone 020 7637 1848 »

The Campaign Against Climate Change trade union conference takes place this Saturday 7 March, 11am to 3.45pm, at Frank Wilkins Building, Stamford Street, London SE1.

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Tue 3 Mar 2009, 18:33 GMT
Issue No. 2141
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