False Dichotomy: Earnings vs. Mother Earth

A pair of scales balances the earth onn the left scale, and a briefcase and US dollars on the right scale

Graphic by Dorothy Gacioch | Washtenaw Voice

By Brittany Dekorte
Deputy Editor

With multiple choice exams, you often see choices laid out like this:

  1. Blue
  2. Red
  3. Both A and B
  4. Neither A or B

For some reason, when it comes to the politics of business regulation and climate change, voters are relegated to A or B, almost never given the follow up option of both.

Last month, President Trump was at the Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti and in Detroit. While he was visiting, the Detroit Free Press reported Trump speaking about peeling back auto regulations in order to create more automotive jobs.

“It was necessary (to resume the review) because the standards were set far into the future,” Trump said. “If the standards threaten auto jobs, then common sense changes could have -and should have – been made.”

Trump has also focused a lot on coal in the last month, meeting with coal miners and pledging to open federal lands to coal extraction, in the name of bringing back jobs.

Lance Vought is an economics professor at Washtenaw Community College. “From an economic perspective, private businesses see environmental regulations as an added cost. If it costs more for a business to make a good or service, it will tend to produce less. If it produces less, then it hires fewer employees to complete the task, and that results in more people out of a job,” Vought said.

Except the experts seem to agree, even opening these lands and rolling back regulations won’t bring back these jobs, in the same way subsidizing fax machines wouldn’t help them replace email- they’re technologically out of date.

More than outsourcing to get around regulation, the automation of factory jobs is replacing workers, according to researchers at MIT, and the Washington Post did an extensive report on how coal jobs employ less people than amusement parks, or Arby’s, or even car washes.

Meanwhile, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the growth in jobs like wind turbine technician will outpace health care and the tech center in job growth through 2024.

Why are matters like this always posed as one or the other, though? It often comes down to a mix of politics and short sightedness.

“In terms of the job creation argument, this belief may actually be counterproductive in terms of the current structure of the economy. By focusing on deregulation so firms can stick to the low hanging fruit of fossil fuels and what they are familiar with, they fail to benefit the country as a whole, stunt our acceleration into the future, and create external costs that we pay for and they potentially profit from,” Vought said.

So, if there isn’t a true link between the regulation and job loss, and there are fast growing fields elsewhere, what should we do? Reeducate workers, help with the transitions, and embrace green technology to improve the economy, and our environment.

“Those whose manufacturing jobs in the auto or steel industry that have gone overseas or across the country can now, with minimal vocational training adjust to a career in producing solar panels, wind turbines, and installing them all over. By creating a new category, you create a new market with job opportunity and wealth opportunity for both businesses and private citizens. This allows for the economy to grow and to move into the future,” Vought said.

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