Where Are Green Collar Jobs?

By Shawn Dell Joyce

What is a “green collar” job? “A green-collar job is in essence a blue-collar job that has been upgraded to address the environmental challenges of our country,” according to Lucy Blake of the Apollo Alliance, which is helping to transition the economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Green collar jobs that are generated by encouraging energy efficiency would include jobs like home energy auditors, insulation installers, weatherization workers, retrofitters for buildings, and solar installers for electricity and solar hot water systems, other green jobs would be brewing bio-fuels, building hybrid cars and erecting giant wind turbines.

Labor unions view these new jobs as replacements for positions lost to overseas manufacturing and outsourcing. Urban groups view training in green jobs as a route out of poverty. And environmentalists say they are crucial to combating climate change. Obama considers them part of the economic stimulus plan.

Many jobseekers are looking to green jobs like Jack Christmann of Energy Appreciators who is doing a blower-door test to measure a home’s energy efficiency.

According to Van Jones, from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Oakland, CA’s Apollo Alliance, green collar jobs 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 Jones in a recent NY Times interview. “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.”

Many people have been laid off or lost jobs in the recent economic downturn. Young people coming out of college are facing a challenging job market. Some of these people are opting for entry-level green jobs like a $12/hour job weatherizing senior housing, with potential to grow to $40/hour as a certified home energy auditor. You could start at $18/hour working as a solar technician, and work your way up to $50 per hour as a certified solar installer, as another example.

“If we can get these youth in on the ground floor of the solar industry now, where they can be installers today, they’ll become managers in five years and owners in 10. And then they become inventors,” said Jones to the NY Times. “The green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people — while honoring the Earth. If you can do that, you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems.”

Meanwhile, job training for millions of green collar jobs has to happen right away. Infrastructure needs to be set up for training, and funding for that has to come from somewhere. Funds could come from a tax on global warming pollution. Or revenues from a cap-and- auction system where heavy polluters buy pollution rights and that money is used to fund green job training centers.

Jones’s Oakland, CA-based Apollo Alliance helped to raise $250,000 from the city government to create a union-supported training program that will teach young people in Oakland how to put up solar panels and weatherize buildings. Jones is partnering nationally with other environmental activists like Majora Carter from Sustainable South Bronx in NY, for congressional support of $125 million-far less than most corporate bail outs-to train 30,000 young people a year in green trades.

“The green economy needs Ph.D.’s and Ph.-do’s,” says Jones to our nation’s youth. “You can make more money if you put down that handgun and pick up a caulk gun!”

What you can do:

Ask Congress to support a “carbon tax” and “cap and auction” system to make big polluters fund our transition away from fossil fuels. www.1Sky.org

Ask your town board to mandate energy star guidelines in the building code to encourage energy efficiency. www.getenergysmart.org

Create a national Clean Energy Corps– expanding national service opportunities within AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America — to combat climate change. www.greenforall.org

Shawn Dell Joyce is an award-winning sustainable artist and founder of the Wallkill River School in the Mid-Hudson region of New York. www.ShawnDellJoyce.com

Shawn can be reached at shawn@ZestofOrange.com.


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