From Blue to Green Collar

For decades the average real wage of the American worker has stagnated and so has our economy. Back during the rise of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ when much of the America we still enjoy today was built, the real wages of working Americans increased and the economy was flourishing. The great age of American progress was defined by high social mobility. To reinvigorate the American economy we must reinvigorate the American Dream. ‘Going green’ is very much about rebuilding the world we live in. Here in America that can mean reaching the kind of GDP growth seen in developing countries by becoming a redeveloping country. The redeveloping will necessarily include a herculean effort by the various building trades, providing extraordinary empowerment opportunities. The opportunity goes not only to the electricians or the plumbers who connect solar panels, or the roofers who put them on, but also the people on the assembly line who put them together and the property owners who benefit from harnessing the suns energy.

The link between the labor and environmental movements has been long understood and is reflected in the diversity of organizations affiliated with the Blue-Green Alliance including the United Steel Workers, Sierra Club, NRDC, and SEIC among others.

One great example of this principle in practice is the full chain-of-custody certification process of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). It requires not only that certified wood meet standards to ensure the forests where the trees were taken from are not clear cut so they will continue to yield lumber and lumber jobs in the future, they also require that every worker up and down the supply chain has the right to organize.

The success of the wind industry in the Midwest, particularly Minnesota, where farmers have partnered with financers to build industrial-scale wind turbines on family farms is another great example of working people harnessing 'green' power. Tax credits are brokered to help with the initial investment, the power generated is sold for a number of years by the financier until they recoup the investment with interest, and then the turbines revert to the farmers who then own them. The financial partners earn a good ROI, the farmers add value to their property and literally cultivate clean energy everyday while still growing crops on the balance of their land. This method has spread across the Midwest and has been coined community wind. Following the boom in turbine installations in the region came a boom in turbine-manufacturing facilities, revitalizing distressed areas and benefiting another critical set of stakeholders, the people at large. For more on this story see the appropriately titled Harvesting the Wind on PBS:

Another great example comes from just north of Oakland in Richmond, one of California’s poorest and most polluted cities. Here Solar Richmond provides green-collar training and job opportunities to young people who have few other options to earn an honest living.