Van Jones is the founding director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and a board member of the Apollo Alliance. This article originally appeared in the Grist magazine blog Gristmill.
Hooray! Hooray! Finally, some House Democrats connected the dots on ways to solve two of the nation's biggest problems: failing American job security and global climate security.
By addressing both issues simultaneously, these congressional leaders may re-energize the anti-poverty movement—and transform the debate on global warming.
U.S. Representatives Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Hilda Solis, D-Calif., both sit on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed the committee. Markey is the chair.
On May 22, the Select Committee held a special hearing, entitled: "Economic Impacts of Global Warming: Green Collar Jobs."
(I was happy to provide testimony [PDF] at the hearing, along with Elsa Barboza [PDF] of SCOPE in Los Angeles and Jerome Ringo [PDF] of the Apollo Alliance.)
At the special hearing, Solis addressed the importance of using green collar jobs both as a way to curb global warming and as a pathway out of poverty.
Markey made an equally strong statement in favor of pursuing this strategy. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has already been working hard on the Senate side, trying to get a "green collar jobs" proposal pushed through there.
A green collar job is a vocational job in an ecologically responsible trade, such as installing solar panels, weatherizing buildings, constructing and maintaining wind farms, materials re-use and recycling and doing organic agriculture.
During a speech on the House floor before the hearing, Solis spoke of the need to respond to the global warming crisis by investing not only in new infrastructure, but also in people.
The shift from dirty energy sources (like oil and coal) to cleaner energy sources (like solar, wind, and plant-based fuel) will produce hundreds of thousands of new jobs. The work of retrofitting millions of buildings so that they conserve energy will produce still more jobs. And all of these jobs will be, by definition, impossible to outsource to other countries.
Solis mentioned legislation she is drafting along with several other members. It will invest in green jobs as means to help workers and low-income people get in on the ground floor of this booming sector of the U.S. economy.
Her exciting new proposal would give federal support to "green collar job training" programs, which would help give U.S. workers (and would-be workers) access to the skills they will need to compete in the new green job market.
In the words of Solis's legislative director, Megan J. Uzzell: "Chairman Markey and Congresswoman Solis both understand the importance of saying to America's workers, particularly those in urban and rural underserved communities, that there is a place for them in the green economy."
I am eagerly awaiting the pending introduction of this legislation. It should pass both houses of Congress unanimously, right?
I mean, who could oppose such a measure?
Funny you should ask ...
The committee's ranking Republican, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, didn't get it at all. He questioned whether there was any such thing as a "green-collar job"—as distinct from any other kind of job.
Apparently, Sensenbrenner's staff had not yet briefed him on the highly specialized nature of work in the emerging green industries. He even wondered aloud whether solar panel installation was any harder than plugging in a satellite dish. (No comment.)
Sensenbrenner also questioned whether the new eco-entrepreneurs shouldn't pay for their own job training programs—and leave government funding out of it.
Of course, most countries work hard to nurture their growing industries. Their elected leaders see government-funded education and job training as one of the most basic ways to support them. Dumping 100 percent of the worker-training costs onto a nascent industry is one sure way to kill it in the cradle.
If U.S. green industries are going to compete and cooperate on the world stage, they will need the support of a well-trained, world-class green workforce. Unfortunately, unless Solis and Markey prevail, they may not have the workforce they need.
In fact, many eco-entrepreneurs fear that their growth will be constrained by a "green collar" labor shortage—unless there is a major increase in the quantity and quality of vocational job training.
Therefore, Solis's proposals are not only good for low-income workers. Worker training will also greatly aid green industries and businesses.
Once Sensenbrenner figures that one out, maybe he will get his GOP colleagues to embrace this novel approach to uplifting the nation's poor.