On April 22nd, 1970, twenty million Americans took action for the first Earth Day, marking the unofficial birth of the modern environmental movement.

Forty years later, Earth Day is as much about hip hop and hard hats as it is about polar bears and Ponderosas.

Over the past few years, the green movement has seen a fundamental shift with the realization of the economic opportunity provided by fighting the climate crisis.  Improving the environment and transitioning to clean energy can spark a wave of jobs and opportunity for the United States, particularly for low-income communities and communities of color.  This vision is becoming a concrete reality across America.

Just yesterday Vice President Biden announced the “Retrofit Ramp-Up” awards, which will help create an estimated 30,000 jobs over the next 3 years while lowering greenhouse gas emissions.  By funding innovative large-scale energy-efficiency retrofits, these awards are a win for the environment and for the economy.  Green For All is proud to partner with Seattle and Portland, Oregon, two winners of the Retrofit Ramp-Up awards that are ensuring that retrofit jobs are high quality and accessible to local low-income communities.

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Opportunities like this in the new green economy are shifting the epicenter of the environmental movement.

That’s why today I am honoring Earth Day with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson not at a National Park or natural wonder, but in the heart of New York City. Along with renowned actor Anthony Mackie and community members, we’re digging in at The Riverside Valley Community Garden in Harlem.  This neighborhood initiative is not only a source of nutritious food; it is transforming a former drug haven into a thriving, green public space.

In 2010, the green movement is in bloom in Harlem.  And it is in bloom in low-income communities and communities of color across the United States, where concerns about health and excitement about green jobs are sparking a new surge of environmentalism.

This April, thousands of people who are motivated by a brighter future for their communities have taken a pledge to bring Earth Day to their blocks.  They’re taking 10 simple steps for the environment and their neighborhoods, and urging our leaders in Washington to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill.

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What’s remarkable is how many of these folks are not environmentalists, but Black Eyed Peas or Drake fans who went to a concert this spring, and walked away with a head full of ideas about strengthening their communities through a green economy.  These musical talents are harnessing their messaging power to spread the word about the green economy, and have partnered with Green For All and Green The Block (a joint campaign with Hip Hop Caucus), to engage new audiences in the movement.  As a result, we’ve touched thousands of people who otherwise would not have taken the day to focus on environmentalism.

The transformation is taking hold in Washington D.C. as well, where the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses have become some of the biggest champions of innovative green jobs bills.  Most recently, Representatives Bobby Rush, Barbara Lee, and others championed the Home Star bill, which will soon be voted on by the full House of Representatives.  The bill is designed to create 168,000 jobs quickly by making American homes more energy-efficient, building on the “Retrofit Ramp-up” investments. Home Star also includes strengthened job quality and access provisions, which will help to ensure that low-income people and communities of color have access to these job opportunities.

This Earth Day, let’s celebrate how the green movement has grown and expanded to be more inclusive of all of America’s communities and concerns.

We are awakening to the interconnectedness of environmental and economic issues, and the interconnectedness of all of our communities.

This awakening comes just in time to take on the challenges of today, which are even more daunting than they were 40 years ago.  As much as we need innovative policy solutions and technology to transition to clean energy (and we do), what we need most desperately is the political will to fundamentally shift how we run our economy and how we treat the earth.

Only an inclusive, expansive movement for people and the planet can build this will.

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