We’re used to being told that things like a new Amazon headquarters or a pipeline will create jobs. The more massive the construction, the more jobs, right? And we’ve gotten used to thinking of these projects as necessary for continued job creation.
Unfortunately, nature is made to step aside for such projects and their promised job creation.
When the Keystone XL pipeline project was on the table in early 2017, a report by the U.S. State Department estimated that it would generate 3,900 direct construction jobs. This number was part of the background for the decision to go ahead with it.
Unfortunately, that number was misleading. Those 3,900 jobs were primarily in the building phase, and only if the pipeline was built in one year.
Once the pipeline is completed it will create only 35 permanent full-time jobs.
Not so impressive.
But what about reforestation and conservation?
Are trees any better at creating jobs? You bet your pipeline it is.
Forest restoration doesn’t happen by magic. You need people. Lots of them. You need soil scientists, biodiversity specialists, water engineers, equipment operators, forest managers, and let’s not forget a bunch of manual laborers to put the trees in the ground.
Here are three examples of reforestation projects and job creation.
- China converts over 30 million hectares of farmland to forest. Since 1999, the Grain-for-Green program in China has reforested 31.8 million hectares, and enhanced the total forest cover of China from 19% to 22%. In 2018, China deployed 60,000 soldiers to plant trees covering an area the size of Ireland as part of a plan to combat air pollution. This effort will bring the total forest cover of China to 23% by 2020.
- The largest tropical reforestation projects in the world. In Brazil, the largest ever tropical reforestation project is planting 73 million trees while ensuring biodiversity. This reforestation project covers 70,000 hectares of land. Almost 2,000 locals are working per hectare, and families can earn around $700 for every hectare reforested.
- In Canada 6,000 workers plant around half a billion trees each year. This is due to reforestation laws reaching as far back as the 1980s, when concern for unsustainable harvest practices grew. This workforce mainly consists of young people in their 20s who are looking to make some money over the summer break. Many of them pay their tuition via this work.
Now we’ve covered reforestation, but what about job creation via conservation projects?
First of all, remember that reforestation and conservation have a tendency to overlap. For instance, the expansion of national parks and other recreational areas are often a combination of reforestation and conservation.
In the case of national parks, consequences of expansion can be either direct, as in the form of jobs for rangers and other park personnel, or indirect.
Indirect job creation is often the most overlooked, but it’s also the most interesting — and profitable.
By expanding a national park, national forest, or local recreation area, you also breathe life into an entire industry: outdoor recreation.
If you’ve ever been on a camping trip, or any other outdoor recreational adventure, you know that the nearby towns are filled with stores selling the kind of sporting gear that you need for a great weekend outside. From biodegradable soap leaves to military-grade paracord, you can find most anything near a national park.
Activities like hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, bird watching, and more, will see a drastic increase in sales and employment.
And of course, any town with high traffic will have gas stations, diners, bed and breakfasts, souvenir shops, and so on.
The 2006 report from the Outdoor Industry Association documents how access to recreational outdoor activities generated $289 billion in retail sales and services across the United States. In addition, there are a total of 6.5 million jobs supported by the recreation economy overall. In comparison, in 2010, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s total revenue was around $146 billion.
Similar results were found for privately owned forests and national forests
Furthermore, there is a growing body of evidence that conservation also leads to a rise in human well-being.
So what’s the catch? Conservation can’t be all that good.
Let’s look at the negative sides of conservation and reforestation.
Comparing a pipeline project with a conservation project, yes, the pipeline will create a lot more jobs: 3,900 to a few hundred. But the pipeline jobs are temporary while conservation jobs persist. Second, the environmental harm, societal harm (displacement of people), and monetary harm that follows from building a pipeline is very costly and holds many externalities.
Moreover, according to Severin Borenstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, estimates of jobs to be created are inflated in both the industrial sector, like for the pipeline project, and in the green sector.
Furthermore, reforestation and conservation projects are not just about planting a shrub-load of trees, but about ensuring biodiversity and resilience. If biodiversity is not accounted for in the reforestation plan, things can go horribly astray.
Remember the large reforestation project in China? Unfortunately, that project focuses on the reforestation part, and while the program has done a lot of good in terms of carbon capture, flood protection, and food production, when it comes to biodiversity it has failed. In 2012, an ecosystem assessment found that biodiverse habitats had decreased by 3.1 percent because the reforestation program didn’t account for biodiversity. As a result, all the new forest areas lowered the overall biodiversity level.
Summing up, let’s get conservational!
Overall, conservation and reforestation are ways of investing in our natural environment while generating jobs in the outdoor recreation industry. It’s not a single magic pill that can fix everything from unemployment to global climate change, but it’s a darn good tool.
At MMCI, all out offsetting projects create American jobs, all the while fighting climate change and securing biodiversity.
If you want to know more about our reforestation projects, check them out here and sign up today, to help us combat climate change.