Unemployment—especially youth unemployment—in America and across the world has been an ongoing problem that many experts have tried to tackle. Spain and Greece have youth unemployment rates over 50 percent, and the U.S. rate is at over 12 percent at the time of this writing. These numbers do not even take underemployment into consideration, which adds considerably to the problem.
Creating more jobs is the obvious answer, but the way more jobs are created is just as important, if not more important, than the actual increase in jobs themselves. The creation of more consumer-driven jobs is just a short-term stop gap to a long-term problem. Pushing more youth into consumer jobs will provide them with skills that will be of no use to them when climate change will force us to abandon, or at least drastically reduce, our daily consumption of fossil-fuel driven products and services.
This is the problem with thousands of people rushing to North Dakota for jobs in the oil field, or the assertion that projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline will create more jobs, alleviating unemployment in America. It is also a problem when people look to the consumer driven growth in different sectors to predict where jobs will be in the future, and put pressure on young Americans to specialize in areas where these predicted jobs will be. Today’s youth need to learn valuable, sustainable skills that will allow them to survive the transition from our consumer culture to living with the effects of climate change.
Perhaps the largest change we will have to learn to live with in the future is the inability to depend on fossil-fuel consuming food industry giants to provide the majority of our daily sustenance. To prepare for this, more young people need to look to the agrarian sector for jobs, and learn organic farming techniques and practices in order to produce food without relying on synthetic fertilizers. The future of our food will rely on yardfarms and community farms; and agricultural skills are something that will need to be widely incorporated into our education systems now so they will be in place in a future where we will desperately need them.
In addition to agricultural skills, our future society will have a great need for traditional hands-on skills like woodworking and basic repair in order to make our existing products and tools last longer. We’re used to replacing items if they break or wear out, or even if we just want a newer version, but replacement may not always be an option. When this is the case, fixing, re-using, and re-purposing will be invaluable skills. Creating jobs in these areas would provide incentive for young people to look to these types of crafts as viable options for a career path.
Another avenue for creating more sustainable jobs is worth mentioning here—the push towards entrepreneurship that some experts think may help youth unemployment the most. Education based on both sustainability and entrepreneurship will allow innovative students to come up with creative solutions to our future problems that are created as a consequence to the broad effects of climate change. This type of education can lead to the creation of “makerspaces”, where communities come together and work on various projects together, like one that repurposes old bicycle frames. If communities like these were oriented towards creating a more sustainable future we could be more prepared for the drastic changes that are to come, or at the very least come up with some cool ideas for using our old bikes.
About the Author – Emily Helminen is a fellow for the Transforming Cultures project at the Worldwatch Institute. With a background in biology, engineering and philosophy, Emily has followed an unlikely path to pursue a career in environmental sustainability, but it is the field in which she hopes to truly make a difference.