There's a new economy springing up around the country -- but it's operating almost entirely in secret. It's called "the restoration economy" and it's remaking America's landscape while putting millions of people to work.
This economy is devoted to restoring what's been lost: degraded forests, watersheds, oceans, cities, communities, buildings, transit -- and it's the product of a major turning point in our history that's been almost entirely missed by the press and politicians.
I recently had the opportunity to learn about this stealth green economy when I participated in a panel at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference about land and water-based jobs. In a telling sign, this panel (organized by The Wilderness Society's relentless JP Leous, one of the brightest rising stars in the environmental movement) was apparently the first in the history of the conference to focus on forest, land, and water based jobs (or as I like to think of them, the ultimate green jobs).
One of my co-panelists was Storm Cunningham, who in his seminal book, The Restoration Economy, revealed this major shift for the first time:
...But then, in the late 90's, I began noticing a miraculous new trend: a number of places -- both ecosystems and communities -- were actually getting better, some spectacularly so. Rivers that had been devoid of fish were teeming with them. Blighted industrial waterfronts were becoming gorgeous, lively, economically thriving public areas. Devastated, clear-cut hills were becoming forests again -- real forests, not just the typical tree farms that are devoid of wildlife. ...
During the last two decades of the twentieth century, we failed to notice a turning point of immense significance. New development -- the development mode that has dominated the past three centuries -- lost significant "market share" to another mode: restorative development.
Despite the fact that restorative development will dominate the twenty-first century, its phenomenal rate of growth has gone largely undocumented. This is hardly an unimportant transition: economic growth based primarily on the exploitation of new resources and territories is giving way to economic growth based on expanding our resources and improving our existing assets..
Why is it happening? Primarily, it's because we've now developed most of the world that can be developed without destroying some other inherent value or vital function of that property. The major driver of economic growth in the the twenty-first century will thus be redeveloping our nations, revitalizing our cities, and rehabilitating and expanding our ecosystems. We'll be adding health and wealth in a way that doesn't cause a corresponding loss of wealth elsewhere.
To put it in other words, today's economic potential isn't in the exploitation of untapped resources, but rather in the restoration of wealth (natural, infrastructural, community and otherwise).
For that reason and others, the restoration economy is dollar-for-dollar by far the best job creator of any economic activity.