New Push for ‘Green Collar’ Jobs

  • A solar panel installation training program run by Grid Alternatives. (Photo by Kristi Coale)

A new employment program is tying the need low-income people have for
good-paying work to the imperative of meeting the nation’s growing energy
demands. The “green jobs” movement trains out-of-work people and former
blue-collar workers to install solar, wind and other alternative energy
systems at homes and businesses. Kristi Coale reports what started as a
local program might soon be coming to the rest of the nation:

Transcript

A new employment program is tying the need low-income people have for
good-paying work to the imperative of meeting the nation’s growing energy
demands. The “green jobs” movement trains out-of-work people and former
blue-collar workers to install solar, wind and other alternative energy
systems at homes and businesses. Kristi Coale reports what started as a
local program might soon be coming to the rest of the nation:


It’s a sweltering, sunny day – one when people are encouraged to reduce
their energy use. And so it’s fitting that a small group of young adults is
busily installing solar panels on the roof of a house.


People honk their car horns as they drive past this house. Solar power is
supported here in California. The workers on the rooftop stop to cheer, clap,
and pump their fists in response. The atmosphere here is electric. And that’s
to be expected because these young trainees, like Andre Collins, are the
embodiment of a vision, one that takes low-income people, often people of
color, and trains them to work in the fast-growing alternative energy
industry.


“They’re green jobs, because they’re healthy and right for the people and the
environment and they’re green also because they’re taking the people who
would otherwise be poor and putting green in their pockets.”



Andre Collins is one of 15 people who are completing a 9-week training
program in solar panel installation. This program is run by Grid Alternatives,
a non-profit that installs solar in low-income communities. Grid uses
volunteers recruited by local youth employment and job training
organizations. This installation is a graduation of sorts and so these trainees
are thinking about the job market.


“I’m just proud to be a part of this, and I can’t wait to make money.”


Some non-profits are stepping up to make training programs like this
possible. So are cities. The city council in Oakland, California approved a
quarter of a million dollars for such a program, a sum that’s possible thanks
to a settlement between energy companies and the State of California. Six
years ago, when rolling blackouts hit California, companies such as Enron
raised their rates. While Enron and others didn’t admit to any wrongdoing,
they gave the state one billion dollars. Some of that money is being used to
train lower-income people in what’s come to be known as green jobs…
installing solar panels and tankless hot water heaters, converting vegetable
oil to fuel.


Renewable energy industries are worth big money, already 40 billion dollars
a year worldwide. These new industries hold the promise of putting tens of
thousands of people to work in the U.S. Van Jones is president of the Ella
Baker Center for Human Rights. He says support for green jobs is redefining
the environmental movement:


“…A social uplift environmentalism that is less about the Birkenstocks and
the tofu, though that stuff is all beautiful. It’s more about the hard hat, the
lunch bucket, more of a working class, we-can-do-it environmentalism I
think is the next step in the environmental revolution.”


Jones is leading that revolution in cities like his hometown of Oakland,
which has fallen on hard times. Jones says what’s missing in struggling blue-
collar cities like Oakland are good-paying, skilled labor jobs, jobs that used
to come through unions.


“And it’s time to really rebuild the labor movement with we think the new
face of working class America which is more Latino, more black, more
Asian and also with a new consciousness around doing things in a more
ecologically smart way.”



Oakland is the first city to declare a green jobs corps. But there could be
many more. Cities across the country might get a chance to start their own
programs, thanks to pending federal legislation:


“This bill will allow for three million workers here to be able to enjoy this
kind of training and advancement.”


That’s California Congresswoman Hilda Solis describing a bill she’s
authored in a YouTube video. The Green Jobs Act of 2007 proposes to
dedicate a half a billion dollars to train people to do green collar work. This
fall, the U.S. Senate will take up Solis’ bill. Many believe creating green jobs
will not only revitalize the economy and the environment, but also reinsert
something that has long been missing from these communities: hope.


For the Environment Report, I’m Kristi Coale.

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The Color of the Environmental Movement

  • Many hope that the future generations of envionmentalists and conservationalists will include more minorities. That's why the National Wildlife Federation now has a program to encourage youth and adult minorities to learn about and adopt careers in environmental fields. (Photo by Hans-G√ľnther Dreyer)

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


If you happen to go to a national conference of environmentalists, or conservation-minded organizations, you probably wouldn’t see a lot of black faces… or Latino… or Asian. Oh sure, a few sprinkled here and there, but mostly, it’s white folks.


But that’s beginning to change. Jerome Ringo is the chair-elect of the National Wildlife Federation. He will be the first African-American to head up a major environmental organization. He says times are changing.


“We are seeing a reversal of the trend. We’re not where we want to be with respect to minority involvement in conservation, but I can guarantee you we’re not where we were. Years ago when I got into the environmental movement, there were very, very few minorities involved.”


Ringo is working to keep the trend reversed. Through the National Wildlife Federation’s youth program, Earth Tomorrow, he’s encouraging young African-Americans and other minorities to learn about the environment and conservation.


And a few young people are listening. Kenneth Anderson is a college student, studying to be an ornithologist. He’s something of a rare bird himself. He grew up in the city – in Detroit – where he says a lot of his friends and neighbors are not all that interested in nature and the environment.


“Really, I mean I can understand why people wouldn’t because throughout most of their life, they’re in this urban setting away from as much wildlife or forests or anything like that so they don’t look at the environment as something of importance because in a way it’s already been taken away or hidden from them. So, that’s why you don’t have a lot of people of color or minorities involved in environmental fields.”


Being cut off from nature is only one obstacle. There are others. Kiana Miiller is a high school student in Detroit. She says a lot of kids are worrying about more pressing problems…


“People of color are in urban areas and urban areas have a lot of different problems like financial issues, stuff like that. So, environmental issues may not be number one on their priority list.”


Kiana Miller and Kenneth Anderson are among a handful of young people of color who are at a meeting to hear from activists and people working in wildlife management about getting involved in environmental issues… and getting jobs.


Like a lot of the kids, many of the speakers at this meeting grew up in the city. For example, Monica Terrell says she didn’t know anything about nature until someone took her on a camping trip when she was a kid. Now, she’s with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources working with state parks all over. She’s at this meeting recruiting.


“People of color and also women need to be made aware of the career opportunities. When you look at different fields, you usually look at people that you know who are already in those fields. You may have a father who is a doctor, a friend who is an attorney, teachers, plumbers, what have you. But we don’t have very many people of color and women who are already in those fields. And so, that’s why it’s so important for us to go out to recruit, select, hire these folks, mentor them, make sure they have a comfortable, successful experience in natural resource management fields.”


Getting the message of environmental involvement doesn’t stop at getting young people thinking about their options. The National Wildlife Federation’s Jerome Ringo says it also means getting grown-ups, especially the poor and people of color, to get active in their community when there are environmental problems. He says he first got involved in environmental activism because he knew of chemical releases that were being emitted from a refinery, and some of those chemicals could cause health problems for the people who live nearby – most of them low-income African-Americans.


“We have to readjust our priorities from just quality of life issues like where next month’s rent is coming from, how do we feed our family. Environmental issues have to be within our top priorities because, as I tell the people in ‘Cancer Alley,’ Louisiana, what good is next month’s rent if you’re dying of cancer? So, we’ve got to be more involved in those quality of life issues and make environmental/conservation issues one of those key issues in our lives.”


Ringo says whether it’s fighting pollution, or a desire to preserve a little of the remaining wilderness, people of color need to take hold of environmental and conservation issues, and make them their own.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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