Fortunately for your humble correspondent, Van Jones was so busy when the editors of the new book, Mandate for Change: Policies and leadership for 2009 and beyond, were looking for an author for their chapter about green jobs, that they turned to me instead. This is part one of three posts that will serialize my chapter. There are over 40 great contributors besides me, your humble … well, anyway, buy the book!
We face several simultaneous crises—global warming, high oil prices, a brittle agricultural system and a major economic slowdown—all of which can be addressed at the same time by embarking on a program of creating millions of high-quality green collar jobs.
A green-collar jobs program can help create an environmentally and economically sustainable society that: drastically reduces its greenhouse gas emissions; encourages energy independence from oil; eliminates the worry of heating and cooling one’s home; and increases food security, all while providing millions of high-quality, well-paying, long-term jobs, thus bringing millions of people into a stable middle class.
The following eight initiatives could result in transportation, energy, building construction, agricultural and manufacturing sectors that would have very low carbon emissions, would be economically and ecologically sustainable for the foreseeable future, and whose workers and employees would all be green-collar.
First, the infrastructure of the United States is crumbling, which means that there is plenty of work to do even without worries about global warming, oil and food. We should build a sustainable infrastructure, not just maintain the one that we have.
Senators Chris Dodd and Chuck Hagel introduced a bill in 2007, the National Infrastructure Bank Act [PDF], which is a good starting point for a discussion about how to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Infrastructure funding has been inadequate for decades, and we need an institution that can provide long-term stability of funding.
However, the federal government should go even further and create a bank that also develops human capital. The bank could be called an Infrastructure Capital Development Bank, one that would, in addition to providing funding for infrastructure construction, run a network of Training Institutes that would train the millions of people we need in order to build a sustainable economy. Green-collar jobs need green-collar job classes.
In addition, the Bank could help businesses start up or expand their green-collar activities, with financial help and/or by providing technical assistance. If desired, the Bank could help these firms become employee-owned-and-operated, thus increasing efficiency and insuring that jobs stay in the United States.
Second, our transportation industries are in trouble because the era of cheap oil is over, and at the same time we need to drastically cut our carbon emissions. For inter-city travel, our infrastructure has been built around airplanes, cars and trucks. In much of the world, however, trains of various kinds fulfill the roles of intercity passenger and freight transportation. In the United States, the incoming Administration has a chance to jump-start the construction of a national network of electrified high-speed passenger and freight trains.
At least initially, foreign companies will be the only ones with the expertise to produce high-speed trains. If domestic content legislation was passed, these companies and the hundreds of subcontractors that would be needed for such systems could employ a whole new generation of high-skill blue-collar, or blue-green-collar workers.
High-speed rail is the cutting edge of transportation technology, having been developed even more recently than air travel, much less the 100-year-plus old technology of the internal combustion engine. There are already several federally recognized high-speed rail networks “in waiting,” around Chicago, Ohio, Texas, Florida and California, in addition to the one between Boston and Washington, D.C., which could certainly be expanded.
A national system of high-speed rail could do in the twenty-first century what the Interstate Highway System did for the United States after World War II: create the infrastructure for a period of high-speed economic growth. In addition, if the rail system was powered by solar and wind-generated electricity, the United States would have the first carbon-free inter-city transportation system in the world.
Third, as oil prices increase, so does the demand for public transportation. Subways and light rail can be run on renewable electricity, and commuter rail systems can be expanded and electrified. In addition, many cities are contemplating bus rapid transit, pioneered in Curitaba, Colombia, which allow buses to move much faster and more comfortably.
Currently, as in the case of high-speed rail, there are no domestic primary contractors for subway construction, but in the case of New York State, domestic content laws have led to the establishment of many subway construction factories, and the same could be mandated across the country. Again, these are blue-green-collar jobs, jobs in industry that will help us move toward a zero carbon emission economy, while making us energy independent and more secure.
Another advantage to public transit is that it will encourage the development of dense, “mixed-use” city and town areas, that is, areas that are composed of apartment buildings, stores, offices and other kinds of buildings. Christopher Leinberger of the Brookings Institution calls for the construction of “walkable urbanism” that is, “the development approach that creates pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use and mixed-income places.” When there are fixed subway or light rail stops, then developers, prospective residents and store owners can be confident that there will be fast and easy transportation to any residence or store.
The construction of dense, mixed use buildings near transit stops will bring about a construction boom for decades to come. Building construction or reconstruction, not normally considered “green,” should be so categorized if new construction takes place near transit stops. There are two ways to make buildings “green”—make them energy efficient, and place them in dense areas next to transit stops.
Thus, public transit decreases carbon emissions, helps us achieve energy independence, and lays the groundwork for walkable communities. In addition, staffing, maintaining and building public transit will provide millions of high-quality jobs all across the country. Since the transit and construction jobs will be in urban areas, low-income neighborhoods can be targeted for recruitment into training and apprenticeship programs.
While government can directly create networks of rail and transit, it can also indirectly encourage the replacement of gasoline-only automobiles and trucks with plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles. The first step in this process would be to mandate that all federal cars and trucks be plug-ins or all-electric by 2020. Eventually, if the entire transportation sector can run on renewable electricity, then all jobs in the transportation sector will be green-collar.
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