Green Jobs: A History

Warm-up: Discussion – Green Jobs, the Economy and the Environment

1. Begin this lesson by discussing what a green job is:

a) Brainstorm as a class what a green job is. Have students provide examples of these. (Includes jobs in the public transit sector, green building, energy efficiency, environmental education, etc.)

  1. Briefly discuss the recent history of green jobs.

a) Ask your students how many have heard of green jobs in the news or otherwise? “Green jobs” is a recent concept, as “green” and “jobs” was formally not used in conjunction; however, green jobs are currently a burgeoning sector. Why did the two not exist together in the past? (For the most part, people did not see that jobs could exist in a way that supported or helped the environment. A job in manufacturing would usually require the use of natural resources, and would add pollution to the environment—end of story. Now, companies understand the importance of balancing the negative affects they have on the environment by using recycled materials, renewable energy, etc.)

b) Why has there been an influx of green jobs in recent years? (With the growing concerns of climate change and with human-induced environmental degradation at an all time high, people have realized that it is time to act to reverse and further prevent the damage we are causing to our earth. Sustainability and environmental responsibility have become more acceptable, profitable and desired as consumers and policy makers have become more aware of serious environmental issues and the need to take steps towards positive solutions. Changes in the global economy have allowed people to look at the job market, production systems and energy use in new, innovative ways.)

c) What have been the driving forces in spurring an increase in green jobs?(Rising direct and indirect costs of a fossil fuel-based economy, growing environmental calamities, public awareness, increases in non-profit organizations/NGO, political impetus to make changes, systematic changes, consumer preferences, etc.).

3. Discuss the growing importance of green jobs for the following areas:

a) President Obama included numerous green job provisions in his stimulus package. How are green jobs related to restoring America’s economy? (A healthy green job market can contribute to reducing unemployment, opening or expanding different sectors, combining job skills in new ways, etc. Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has estimated that the recovery package will save or create 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.)[1]

b) How are green jobs related to curbing climate change? (The green job provisions of the stimulus package “would remove one of the barriers that slow our progress in confronting the serious dangers posed by global warming.” New jobs would be created in new sectors, working towards climate change measures such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste reduction, sustainability, etc.)

c) How could green jobs reduce American dependence on foreign oil? (Increased focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency will decrease fossil fuel dependence in the US. Focusing funding, research, manpower and innovation to these areas will improve the technology, efficiency and use of alternative energy sources.)

d) How might green jobs help the US to stay competitive in the global market? (Labor leaders see green jobs as a way to fight outsourcing and keep manufacturing alive in America. New technologies and products would be created in the US.)

4. Discuss positive and negative consequences of creating and providing for green jobs:

a) Concentrating funding and policy for new sectors might take resources and jobs from old sectors. For example, growing energy use from renewable sources might shut down gas stations, reduce coal power plants, etc.

b) However, many of these jobs and skills can be transferable to the new sectors.


Activity One: Industry v. Environment Debate Preparation

1. For this activity, split your class into groups. (Depending on your class size, you may want to have two groups to represent each side of the debate, or break each side into smaller groups to research the topic separately.) Assign each group one of the two roles—representatives of the timber industry or representatives of the Sierra Club—one to two days before the debate (depending on research done in-class or as homework) and explain the format of and procedures for the debate. The purpose of this debate is to recreate the Spotted Owl controversy, allowing students to think critically about the situation from either of the two standpoints. Students on the timber industry side will be in favor of continued logging, while students acting as members of the Sierra Club will be arguing for the protection of the Spotted Owl.

2. Hand out Reproducible Two - Debate Grading Rubric and Reproducible Three -Debate Format and Procedures. Go over the debate format as a class.

3. Briefly explain to your students the details of the Spotted Owl controversy. Use Reproducible One – Spotted Owl Controversy Information to give an overview to the class and/or see Santa Clara University’s website for information, Provide students with this link and/or printed copies of information on the controversy (Reproducible One – Spotted Owl Controversy Information).

4. Have students ponder the following questions either from the viewpoint of a worker in the timber industry (someone who depends on logging for their livelihood) or a member of the Sierra Club (whose interest is vested in protecting an endangered species that cannot protect itself):

a) Why are your side’s vested interests? (Employment, endangered species protection…)

b) Why is the other side’s position “unreasonable”?

c) Why might the other side’s position be “reasonable”? What arguments might they use?

d) Would you ever be able to come to a compromise with the opposing side? Are there any options that could save jobs or create new ones while still reducing environmental harm?

5. Ask students to research the debate, focusing on the point of view their group represents. They may delegate roles within their groups and have each student prepare the necessary pieces needed for the debate.  


Activity Two: Industry v. Environment Debate

1.On the day of the debate, you may want to allow a few minutes for each side to convene, assign roles and review their main arguments.

2. Pair opposing groups to discuss the following statements from their respective points of view:

a) The timber industry should be allowed to continue business as usual because the American economy and the jobs provided through logging are more vital to Americans’ livelihoods than protecting the Spotted Owl. 

b) Human actions should not be causing other species to go extinct. We have an obligation to change our actions and protect other species and resources on our planet. Our survival ultimately rests on other species and healthy ecosystems.

3. Follow the format outlined in Reproducible Three -Debate Format and Procedures. Moderate the debate so each side has equal amount of time to present an argument and to prepare and present a rebuttal.

4. Encourage students who are not participating directly during the debate to become more involved by either taking notes or preparing speaking points as the debate progresses.

5. End the debate with a final decision or compromise from the class.


Wrap-Up: Discussion

1. Following the debate, have students come back together as a whole class to discuss what they thought of the points raised in the debate.

a) Do students feel that they were assigned to the side that truly represents their opinions of the controversy?

b) Did their perspective change because of their research?

c) Were any points raised during the debate that perhaps allowed them to understand and commiserate with the other side?

d) Did students’ stand on the topic change after the debate?

e) What were some of the strongest points they thought were made in the debate?

f)  What are some ideas for compromise between these two groups?

2.      Discuss the current relationship between industry and the environment:

a) Do students think that the economy is more important than the global health of the planet? Why or why not? Or are these two areas equally important? Are they exclusive of each other or ultimately related in some way?

b) In recent years have the two areas come together? Specifically, have students noticed a rise in environmentally-minded industries? Have they noticed a rise in green jobs in general? If yes—in what sectors have they seen this change? If no—how could big industries go green? (Large production plants can use renewable energy sources, sustainable building supplies, implement recycling programs, reduce waste, use sustainably-grown or produced materials, etc.)

c) What specific green jobs can students think of that have successfully married the industry and the environment? (Jobs in: harnessing renewable energy, hybrid car production, environmental education, waste management, etc.)

d) Do students see the relationship between industry and the environment coming together more in the near future? Are there more ways that the two areas can continue to compromise?  


Extension: Homework Assignment

1. Have students research another case similar to the Spotted Owl Controversy. What other controversies can they find in which an industry has an interest that is strongly opposed by environmental interest groups (Cases to consider: Snail Darter, Yellowstone wolf, Pacific Salmon, African/Asian Elephants, the fishing or whaling industry, industrial farming industry etc.) Based on their research, students should write a persuasive paper arguing one side or both sides of the argument.



At the conclusion of this lesson, studentswill have gained experience in researching, writing, and presenting information pertaining to either the timber industry or the spotted owl and how this applies to similar controversial issues. Moreover, students will know the general history of green jobs and will know why there has been a recent impetus to create green jobs.