Thursday, May 24, 2007

Van Jones: Green-collar jobs go to Washington

News from Van Jones, a YES! contributing editor and president of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Evidently members of Congress are listening to the Apollo Project and many others who have been mapping out how we can address climate, the hollowing out of the U.S. economy, dependence on oil, and joblessness.

Here's Van's report:

U.S. Congressional Voices Say: Fight Poverty & Global Warming With “Green-Collar Jobs”

Hooray! Hooray! FINALLY !!!

Yesterday, key House Democrats finally “connected the dots” on ways to solve two of the nation’s biggest problems: failing American job security and global climate security.

By addressing both issues simultaneously, these Congressional leaders may re-energize the anti-poverty movement - and transform the debate on global warming.

U.S. Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) both sit on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed the committee. Markey is the chair.

Yesterday the Select Committee held a special hearing, entitled: “Economic Impacts of Global Warming: Green Collar Jobs.”

(I was happy to provide testimony at the hearing, on behalf of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. I was honored to testify alongside Elsa Barboza of SCOPE in Los Angeles, and Jerome Ringo of the Apollo Alliance.)

At the special hearing, Congresswoman Solis addressed the importance of using green collar jobs both as a way to curb global warming – and as pathways out of poverty.

Chairman Markey made an equally strong statement in favor of pursuing this strategy. And Senator Bernie Sanders has already been working hard on the Senate side, trying to get a "green collar jobs" proposal pushed through there.

A green collar job is a vocational job in an ecologically responsible trade, for instance: installing solar panels, weatherizing buildings, constructing and maintaining wind farms, materials re-use and recycling, doing organic agriculture, etc.

Green-Collar Legislation Being Developed

During a speech on the House floor before the hearing, Congresswoman Solis spoke of the need to respond to the global warming crisis by investing– not only in new infrastructure – but also in people.

The shift from dirty energy sources (like oil and coal) toward cleaner energy sources (like solar, wind and plant-based fuel) will produce hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The work of retrofitting millions of buildings (so that they conserve energy) will produce still more jobs.

And all of these jobs will be, by definition, impossible to outsource to other countries.

Congresswoman Solis mentioned legislation she is drafting, along with several other Members. The legislation will invest in green jobs as means to help workers and low-income people get in on the ground floor of this booming sector of the U.S. economy.

Her exciting, new proposal would give federal support to “green collar job training” programs, which would help give U.S. workers (and would-be workers) access to the skills they will need to compete in the new, green job market.

In the words of Solis’s Legislative Director Megan J. Uzzell: “Chairman Markey and Congresswoman Solis both understand the importance of saying to America's workers, particularly those in urban and rural underserved communities, that there is a place for them in the green economy.”

I am eagerly awaiting the pending introduction of this legislation. It should pass both houses of Congress unanimously, right?

I mean, who could oppose such a measure?

GOP Still Clueless, But Learning

Uh, well, funny you should ask. …

The committee’s ranking Republican, James Sensenbrenner, didn’t get it at all. He questioned whether there was any such thing as a “green-collar job” – as distinct from any other kind of job.

Apparently, Sensenbrenner’s staff had not yet briefed him on the highly specialized nature of the work in the emerging green industries. He even wondered aloud whether solar panel installation was any harder than plugging in a satellite dish. (No comment.)

Sensenbrenner also questioned whether the new eco-entrepreneurs shouldn’t pay for their own job training programs – and leave government funding out of it.

Of course, most countries work hard to nurture their growing industries. Their elected leaders see government-funded education and job training as one of the most basic ways to support them, especially when . Dumping 100 percent of the worker-training costs onto a nascent industry is one sure way to kill it in the cradle.

If U.S. green industries are going to compete and cooperate on the world stage, they will need the support of a well-trained, world-class green workforce. Unfortunately, unless Solis and Markey prevail, they may not have the workforce they need.

In fact, many eco-entrepreneurs fear that their growth will be constrained by a “green collar” labor shortage – unless there is a major increase in the quantity and quality of vocational job training.

Therefore, Solis’s proposals are not only good for low-income workers. Worker training will also greatly aid green industries and businesses, themselves.
Once Sensenbrenner figures that one out, then maybe he will get his GOP colleagues to embrace this novel approach to uplifting the nation's poor.

For more information about green-collar jobs and the Apollo Alliance, check out these article:

Oakland Creates Jobs by Going Green by Van Jones and Ben Wyskida

Apollo Project: Finding Opportunity in Crisis, by Carla Dinn

The Apollo Project, by Bracken Hendricks

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