When Nate and I debate the greening of America, often times he uses the argument of:
"If you take away the oil refineries and pollution-spewing power plants, and all that, to make everything green, you're taking away jobs that people need. No one will sign on for that."
My counter-argument focuses on using the greening movement to create jobs to replace the ones lost by traditional, pollution-heavy industries. Such as, instead of sending teens to vocational schools to learn how to be mechanics, create a new program to teach them to install solar panels.
I'm now happy to report that someone has taken my brilliant idea and put it to work. Thomas Friedman's column today is about the efforts of Van Jones to spur low-income populations in Oakland, CA, to embrace the green movement as economic ascendancy for them:
Using his little center in Oakland, Mr. Jones has been on a crusade to help underprivileged African-Americans and other disadvantaged communities understand why they would be the biggest beneficiaries of a greener America. It’s about jobs. The more government requires buildings to be more energy efficient, the more work there will be retrofitting buildings all across America with solar panels, insulation and other weatherizing materials. Those are manual-labor jobs that can’t be outsourced.
“You can’t take a building you want to weatherize, put it on a ship to China and then have them do it and send it back,” said Mr. Jones. “So we are going to have to put people to work in this country — weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up solar panels, constructing wind farms. Those green-collar jobs can provide a pathway out of poverty for someone who has not gone to college.”
Let’s tell our disaffected youth: “You can make more money if you put down that handgun and pick up a caulk gun.”
Remember, adds Mr. Jones, “a big chunk of the African-American community is economically stranded. The blue-collar, stepping-stone, manufacturing jobs are leaving. And they’re not being replaced by anything. So you have this whole generation of young blacks who are basically in economic free fall.” Green-collar retrofitting jobs are a great way to catch them.This is the sort of cross-industry idea that I so happily champion. You can't work on one area of our current woes (environmental, economic, political, social, cultural, educational, etc.) without encountering another. So Mr. Jones has combined the economic depression of a population and coupled it with training to work for a better environmental situation. It's a positive result for all parties.
I would love for someone to latch on to this idea here in Boston. With so many younger inner-city teens turning to violence, it would be a boon to all for a program to start up that would give them marketable skills and an eye to catch on to the future economy. As it is now, teens continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence as adults, because there is no "off-ramp."
I think this program is better than a typical vocational program, because it really gives this group an edge on how the economy will develop. The next wave of economic growth is going to be green all over. Business schools now teach Environmental Management. Nobel Prizes go to those working on climate change. If we are going to help the disadvantaged climb the economic ladder, they are going to need to reach for the green.