Real Jobs for a New Economy

wch_3 On September 27th, a coalition of environmental and social justice groups will be hosting Green Jobs Now, a national day of action to promote “the green economy.” Lead by Green for All, 1Sky and Al Gore’s We Campaign, this network of events is all about how a movement towards “green-collar jobs” can simultaneously address a few critical issues: climate change, poverty, and job security.

So what are “green collar jobs?”  Phil Angelides, chair of the Apollo Alliance and former California gubernatorial candidate, defines them this way:

“It has to pay decent wages and benefits that can support a family. It has to be part of a real career path, with upward mobility. And it needs to reduce waste and pollution and benefit the environment.” …

If you make wind turbines or solar panels, your job is reliably green. But Angelides and his allies want to cast a wider net. To them, a green-collar job can be anything that helps put America on the path to a cleaner, more energy efficient future. That means jobs in the public transit sector, jobs in green building, jobs in energy efficiency — even traditional, blue-collar manufacturing jobs, provided what you’re making is more or less green.

Green jobs are a hot topic these days, particularly in the midst of the presidential campaign season. Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama’s New Energy for America plan, which talks of addressing energy security, climate change, and creating 5 million new jobs is a great example:

Obama will strategically invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. The plan will also invest in America’s highly-skilled manufacturing workforce and manufacturing centers to ensure that American workers have the skills and tools they need to pioneer the green technologies that will be in high demand throughout the world. All together these investments will help the private sector create 5 million new green jobs, good jobs that cannot be outsourced.

And though there are some marked differences in Republican Nominee John McCain’s energy plan (an emphasis on drilling for one, as well as heavy investments in  “clean” coal and nuclear energy), he’s also on board the green job train:

John McCain Believes That The U.S. Must Become A Leader In A New International Green Economy. Green jobs and green technology will be vital to our economic future. There is no reason that the U.S. should not be a leader in developing and deploying these new technologies.    

Putting aside for a moment the worrisome embrace of some solutions that are not in fact solutions, there’s something missing here.  Almost all talk of green collar jobs is centered around tech-heavy industries.  Despite showcasing an image of the Windy City Harvest project (which teaches sustainable horticulture and urban agriculture skills to at-risk young adults and hard-to-employ residents of Chicago’s west side), this interview of Apollo Alliance board member and Green for All founder, Van Jones, is a perfect case in point. Discussion of green jobs is essentially limited to trades like weatherization, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

Now this is not intended in any way as a knock on groups like Apollo Alliance and Green for All. But what if Van Jones and others leading this movement factored into their thinking an understanding of energy depletion? Would their vision of “green jobs” change? My guess is that it would. And for good reason.

The truth is that while the decline of the middle class in the U.S., national security concerns, and the climate crisis should compel us to invest in clean technology and conservation, peak oil will demand a massive transformation in all industries–everything from agriculture to goods and services, and beyond. We’re not just talking about the energy sector here, but all sectors, and every facet of our lives. And we’re not just talking about providing education and vocational opportunities for those currently looking for a pathway out of poverty. We’re talking about reskilling an entire population that has outsourced through the long tail of globalization much of the knowledge we will need to see ourselves through the coming transition.

So, while we support and invite everyone to join the Green Jobs Now campaign, we also want to raise the bar for all of us. By adding preparation for energy depletion to the call to action, the vision of green collar jobs should be expanded 10 or 100 fold. Five million jobs? How about 50 million

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