Sunday, March 25, 2007

Green-collar jobs - jobs of the future

Van Jones, a civil-rights lawyer, is founder and executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, as I discovered from Dave Roberts' article on the man.

In 2005, the center unveiled an initiative that would put it at the cutting edge of progressive activism: Reclaim the Future, a program aimed at ensuring that low-income and minority youth have access to the coming wave of "green-collar" jobs.

"Green-collar" jobs!

The compact fluorescent light flashed on in my head and for a timeless moment I had a vision of the future economy where the green-collar workers contribute as significantly as white and blue collar ones. It's an evocative term with instant understanding. So what does Van Jones have to say:

We need to send hundreds of millions of dollars down to our public high schools, vocational colleges, and community colleges to begin training people in the green-collar work of the future -- things like solar-panel installation, retrofitting buildings that are leaking energy, wastewater reclamation, organic food, materials reuse and recycling.

All the big ideas for getting us onto a lower carbon trajectory involve a lot of people doing a lot of work, and that's been missing from the conversation. This is a great time to go to the next step and ask, well, who's going to do the work? Who's going to invest in the new technologies? What are ways to get communities wealth, improved health, and expanded job opportunities out of this improved transition?

That's one component: rather than creating job-training pipelines that put these kids at the back of the line for the last century's pollution-based jobs, we need to be creating opportunities for them to be at the front of the line for the new clean and green jobs.

Another piece is to go a step beyond job training and begin to think about reviving the old Civilian Conservation Corps that [Franklin D. Roosevelt] created during the environmental challenges of his day. Now we have a new set of environmental challenges. The national Apollo Alliance and the Campus Climate Challenge have been talking with us about creating what we would call an Energy Corps. It would be like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, but it would be focused on deploying people to begin retrofitting the U.S. economy, rebooting it based on clean energy.

The moral challenge of the century is this: We need to ensure that there's equal protection for everyone in the face of the perils of this new period, and equal access to the opportunities of this new period.

There you go, there's a man with a plan. He has more to say on the subject and it is stimulating reading. I am going to adopt and expand his term, "green-collar", because in my vision I also see that keeping up with a Joneses is out with sequestered dinosaurs, and that the new game in town will be keeping up with the Van Joneses.

One of Van Jones' strengths is that he connects the disparate global warming concerns of high and low income groups.

In terms of achieving the aims of his specific mission, 'working to prevent youth violence and incarceration' he is going to give affected communities the chance to buy into the sustainable economies of the future, a chance to get ahead of the curve, a slingshot forward.

The other thing to keep in mind is that people who have a lot of opportunity, the affluent, love to hear about this big crisis. Oh my god, global warming, we're all going to die. For people who have a lot of crisis already, they don't want to hear about another big crisis. They've got sick parents, no health care, all that kind of stuff -- they don't want to hear about it. The rhetoric has to change. For people with a bunch of opportunity, you tell them about the crisis. For people with a bunch of crisis, you tell about the opportunities.

When you start shutting down some of these dirty power plants and move to renewables, you reduce asthma by a certain percentage. That's important, because if you have one kid with asthma and you don't have health care, that's about $10,000 a year between inhalers, lost wages, and emergency room visits. So you're putting $10,000 per kid per year back into the pockets of poor people when you clean up the air. You save the polar bears and you save the black kids too.

That's got to be how we come at this: What are the jobs, wealth, and health benefits of being a part of this movement?

I'm arguing for a progressive eco-populism with an appropriate role for government, that rewards and helps the problem-solvers in the U.S. economy but taxes the hell out of the problem-makers. That can be a winning formula to realign U.S. politics and economics.

We have an obligation to recognize that we've entered a new period of real limits and real consequences. We need to be part of a conversation about how to limit the harm and spread out the hope.

Finally, his thoughts on the green-collar economy:

There's no way to get changes big enough to solve these problems without creating pathways out of poverty for millions of new green-collar workers. The renewable economy is more labor-intensive, less capital-intensive; therefore, there should be a net increase in jobs.

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