Climate change: The need for blue-green jobs

Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Tom Politeo

The tug of war over the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline sets the stage for an archetypal battle of tree-huggers against the economy. This is, of course, exactly the way Big Money and Big Oil hope to frame the debate, capitalizing on an economy that has been staggering along on shaky legs.

President Obama in January decided the 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada to the U.S. would not be in the nation's interest and denied a federal permit for the project strongly opposed by the Sierra Club. But since then, the plan has started gaining new momentum in Congress and likely will resurface.

Pipeline developers have already begun to ballyhoo the need for construction workers to build the project, casting themselves as job creators. If oil interests get to write the script, they will villainize the environmental movement as a bunch of radicals who would callously take palpable jobs away from workers in dire need of a paycheck.

Big Oil doesn't care if their script writers are producing a work of fiction, they'll keep pumping well-gouged gasoline profits into repeating the message until it takes root, truthful or not. Every time we shell out our hardearned dollars to fill our gas tanks, we help pay for their lies.

So the bigger issue is not jobs vs. the environment, but what kind of jobs we want to create. We need jobs that help sustain the entire nation, not ones that enrich a few oil companies and bring as much harm as the tar sands project would. It's labor's efforts that helped establish a middle class whose members have the time, education and financial resources to fight for what's right, even when it runs contrary to the selfish interests of huge corporations.

A sensible solution

This all boils down to a pretty simple formula: good jobs, green jobs, close to home.

The heart of the issue is sustainability. Sustainability, by its nature, runs across the board and hitches diverse issues together, including how wisely the nation uses debt, how natural resources are maintained, how we educate the next generation, how we reduce poverty and discrimination and cut carbon emissions quickly enough to keep up with climate change. The nation can't be sustainable if any one component -- the environment, the economy, the natural resources or the social fabric -- fails.

Restoring America to full employment, especially raising the lot of the working poor, is essential to achieve our environmental goals. Urban poverty is itself at the root of urban blight, urban flight and urban sprawl. The poverty and blight cycle reinforces new patterns of segregated housing -- now spread across distant jurisdictions in Southern California -- that lead to long commutes, bulldozing undeveloped land for housing, far more carbon emissions and lots of lost human time.

Poverty expresses itself not just in economic terms, but in terms of free time. Like the working poor, many middle class and upper middle class families also suffer time poverty, from a mix of long days at work topped off with epic commutes. When parents can't spend the time they need to raise their children, more social problems follow. More environmental problems will inevitably follow those as will a greater drain on government services.

We want a system of employment that leaves us time to spend with our friends and families and keeps a roof over our heads. We want the kind of jobs that don't harm the environment and, with some good planning, help improve it.

It's time to vie for the whole package -- not just pieces of it. And that's what the tar sands jobs are, job scraps -- jobs that will soil the environment and make climate change worse. They will saddle us with many additional costs as a result, which we will all pay for, as taxpayers or consumers and possibly with our health. Over time, these will derail prosperity and drive us to the poorhouse.

Effect of energy prices

Every time the economy ticks up a notch, energy prices sneak up too. Unlike abundant energy from the sun, fossil fuels are a limited resource quickly growing scarcer in supply. This is what makes stopping solar, propping up oil, and denying climate change so attractive to Big Oil. Dropping supply and rising demand are a sure-fire formula to amass a fortune.

The concern over climate change is not an academic debate concocted by overeducated tree-huggers. It is a real-world concern arising from sound science about the lives of every human being, particularly the world's poorest people. As the economic consequences of food and water shortages brought on by climate change are felt -- it will be the world's poorest who will surfer the most and likely pay for the consequences of our decisions with their lives.

In this country, this debate is sadly tortured by some who have badmouthed scientific inquiry when science threatens their pocketbooks. If you have even a moment's hesitation with respect to the gravity of the climate change, you have a well-oiled lobby to thank for your doubts. It is hard to witness the pervasiveness of the impacts of Big Oil's manipulative folly and remember that our nation began in an age of enlightenment and reason.

The recipe again: good jobs, green jobs, close to home.

In this regard, the environmental movement itself must beware. It's not enough to stop creating dirty jobs. Our first focus must be on creating new, green jobs -- the very jobs that will help turn our nation around, and replace jobs from the old coal and oil economy.

We are out to create the jobs and build the cities of a nation that will long endure.

Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference

Now in its fifth year, the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference -- the nation's leading forum for sharing ideas and strategies to build a green economy and create good, green jobs --  arrives in L.A. on March 15 and 16 to showcase the unique opportunities in building a cleaner, job-creating economy.

Featured speakers will be L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; James Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Sierra Club Treasurer Allison Chin; and Phil Angelides, chairman of the Apollo Alliance Project and the BlueGreen Alliance. From the manufacturing of solar panels and wind turbines, to the retrofit of commercial buildings and the weatherization of homes, to the production of cleaner, safer chemicals, the green economy is emerging in cities and towns across the country.

The conference features two days of exciting speakers and informative workshops, bringing together community leaders, union members, environmentalists, business leaders and elected officials to discuss how each region is, block by block, building the foundation for a green economy.

Register to choose the workshops that best fit your interest in the green economy. This conference features more than 40 workshops on topics ranging from Infrastructure and Cleaner, More Efficient Transportation, to Workforce and Economic Development to Clean Energy Manufacturing. The two-day events costs $195 for both days at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. For information, go to the website.

Tom Politeo is co-chair of the Chapter's Harbor Vision Task Force.

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