By Cathy Calfo, Executive Director of The Apollo Alliance
The green jobs movement has come a long way, baby. Just five years ago, the notion that we could end U.S. dependence on foreign oil, reduce dangerous carbon emissions that are destabilizing our climate, and create “green” jobs here at home was considered by many to be a pipedream. Now, as we seek to revive our economy, the phrase ³”green jobs²” is on the lips of policy makers,
business leaders and labor union officials across the nation, and green jobs measures are being proposed and enacted in cities from Gainesville, Fla., to Kansas City, Mo.
“Fighting global warming and transforming the United States into a green economy is a massive and defining challenge for our time,” argue Robert Pollin and Jeanette Wicks-Lim of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “It is the work of a generation, and specifically, the work of millions of people, performing the jobs needed to build the green economy.”
As America’s transition to a clean energy economy takes hold, we are seeing these people and these jobs emerge across the country, in all sectors of our economy. For example, new construction jobs are created as homes are weatherized and more efficient heating and cooling systems are put in place. Solar panels that reduce home energy costs are installed by carpenters and electricians. Community programs like the Oakland Green Jobs Corps and Solar Richmond in Northern California are training and placing workers, linking them to real pathways out of poverty. New investments in public transit are reducing vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and creating family-supporting union jobs that provide healthcare and pension benefits.
Another sector – manufacturing – has been a central focus of the Apollo Alliance this year. In the 1950’s, 30 percent of Americans worked in manufacturing, producing cars, equipment, food products, and an array of other goods. By capping carbon emissions and putting in place requirements for renewable energy usage, we can increase demand for the manufacture of clean technologies and help revive a sector that, having been decimated by the loss of 5.1 million jobs in the last decade, now represents just 10 percent of U.S. employment. By retooling our factories, we can put skilled workers back into the workforce, making components for windmills, solar and transit systems, and other clean technologies.
The economic promise of clean energy manufacturing to help revive the American communities that have suffered the most during the economic downturn should also serve as a strong incentive to pass comprehensive clean energy standards for lawmakers in traditional manufacturing states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. Their votes will be critical to passing strong federal clean energy and climate measures.
Congress can also support manufacturers in their efforts to retool factories by passing the Investments for Manufacturing Progress and Clean Technology (IMPACT) Act, a clean energy manufacturing bill that was introduced by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The bill will establish a $30 billion revolving loan fund targeted to small and mid-sized manufacturers for retooling their factories to produce clean technologies and to make their operations more energy efficient. It also would increase support for Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP’s) that link smaller manufacturers to supply chains and markets for their goods.
Today, despite some notable success stories, over 70 percent of renewable energy systems and components used in the U.S. are manufactured overseas. That means good clean energy jobs that should be filled by American workers are instead going abroad. The IMPACT Act would help reverse that trend and ought to be front and center in the climate and energy debate.
Already, more than 180 businesses across the country, many of them manufacturers, have endorsed Sen. Brown’s bill because they believe it is the key to expanding their operations, growing the clean energy economy, and keeping new green jobs in America.
The promise of green jobs and economic recovery will be central to the climate and clean energy debate, if we continue to make the promise real. The more jobs we create here at home, the more committed the public and policymakers will be to adopting the policies we need to save our economy and our planet. Take a look at the dozens of clean energy, good jobs success stories on the Apollo Alliance website, and pass them around!
Cathy Calfo is the executive director of Apollo Alliance, a coalition of
labor, business, environmental and community leaders working to put millions of American back to work in the next generation of high-quality, green-collar jobs.