A green economy leaves no one behind

Leslie Carlson

Of all the developments in the environmental movement of the past few years, none has excited me more than the growing call for environmental justice.

The 21st century environmental movement, which has gained significant steam since an Inconvenient Truth, has been largely a white, middle-class effort. That is now changing with the work of people like Van Jones and the Ella Baker Center.

The Center’s “Green For All” movement wants to make sure that the “green jobs” of the future benefit all sectors of society. One of their pilot projects, training solar installers in Northern California, shows some early, exciting progress. It’s a win-win-win in my book: solar projects go up, greenhouse gas emissions go down, and minority community members get jobs in one of the economy’s fastest-growing economic sectors.

Portland is a pretty white city, but even here, minority communities often bear the worst effects of environmental pollution. For example, asthma rates in NE Portland neighborhoods (located near I-5) are far higher than in other Portland neighborhoods. (NE Portland residents also have a harder time paying for asthma medications, which may be why nearly 15 percent of residents near I-5 reported breathing problems, as opposed to 8 percent of those in SW Portland near I-5 and the Ross Island Bridge.)

In April, Jones and many other environmental justice leaders will be in Memphis for The Dream Reborn conference, which I hope galvanizes us environmentalists even further. If we are going to build a new, green economy—and I believe we are—then we’ve got to make sure that no one gets left out.

  • Jeff Bissonnette (unverified)

    Excellent post! If I could respond with my Portland City Council candidate hat on, there are tremendous opportunities for Portland to make clean energy a key economic mainstay for our city while also focusing on creating "green collar jobs" that are so important to make sure that the financial benefits of a clean energy economy are spread to everyone.

    I'm having a town hall on March 20 at Parkrose High School (12003 NE Shaver) from 6:30-8 pm to discuss exactly these issues. There will be speakers from the industry there as well and opportunities based on the work of Green for All and the Ella Baker Center is a specific topic (see the blog ad at the left for details). I had another town hall on this topic and you can find information about it here

  • TR (unverified)

    “A green economy leaves no one behind” How true. It increases consumption when infrastructure and consumer goods are replaced before the end of their useful life and worn out, significantly adds to the costs of food and consumer goods, drives inflation and extorts supplementary tax dollars from the people - all of which fuels recession that leads to job loss. The arrogant egotistical self-centered gluttony attributed to environmental justice zeal without doubt has a monetary bleeding effect that drains the economy thereby creating a negative financial impact on the quality of life.

  • (Show?)

    What the hell did TR say?

  • helys (unverified)

    I think TR is misunderstanding what leaving no-one beind means in this context. It's not about increasing availability of consumer goods but about making sure the jobs that are created in renewable energy and sustainability are available to populations who have suffered most from the dirty economy -- historically that is low-income people and minorities, who are the ones who live in the industrial zones, deal with most pollution and have to deal with higher infant mortality rates, asthma and other diseases not to mention being the ones who work the dirtiest jobs.

    TriMet's Fred Hansen puts it well when he talks about equality being essential to sustainability. When you have an entire swathe of the population who are locked out of the economy, they have no reason or even capability to get involved in environmental issues.

    So far we haven't been doing very well with this. I have been dismayed by the almost total absence of outreach to communities of color in Portland. It has made environmental groups look elitist and out of touch. Sadly often it's because environmentalists are self righteous about the work. Hey I'm recycling and bicycling so why aren't you -- Well dude I'm struggling to keep my kids in school, to get them to the doctor for medications for their asthma, to pay rent and put food on the table. And why should I do this? for the future? And what future is that? The poorest communities need to be included: kids need to be mentored academically so they can see themselves working in jobs that benefit the environment, for example. Thanks Jill for posting because this definitely is the most hopeful signs we have of being able to come together and really bring everyone along in the enormous changes that we are going to have to make.

  • helys (unverified)

    OOPs I meant Leslie. Thanks Leslie for the posting. Sorry for getting your name wrong.

  • M. H. Wilson (unverified)

    "TriMet's Fred Hansen puts it well when he talks about equality being essential to sustainability. When you have an entire swathe of the population who are locked out of the economy, they have no reason or even capability to get involved in environmental issues."

    Fred Hansen's comments might be taken more seriously if Trimet provided better service to the low income neighborhoods of the city.

    M. H. Wilson

  • Blueshift (unverified)

    This a great post, and is absolutely on the right track. I'm glad to see Jeff Bissonnette is already starting the conversation in the Portland area. On another encouraging note, Rick Metsger is talking about the same things on a statewide level. At the Marion County Demoforum this week, he was promoting sustainable economic development at the state and the community level and said it was going to be one of his major priorities as Secretary of State. The SOS is the Chair of the Sustainability Board, so this is a real possibility, if we can get people at all levels of government talking about it.

  • (Show?)

    Sorry for getting your name wrong.

    No worries. I've been called much worse than "Jill." ;>)

  • MCT (unverified)

    Call me blonde, (as long as we're discussing ethnic types) but what do you mean by "minoity community"? Is this some new PC term I've failed to add to my vocabulary? And "communities of color"? Hey, ALL low income or unemployed workers would like a stab at a livable wage job. It's got nothing to do with "certified" minorities. When I look around Portland's lower and middle income neighborhoods I see pretty much a mixed spice population.

    But, in this post, I didn't get a sense of anything livable about the wages that will be offered for these green jobs....and don't get me wrong, I think green industries will be this country's salvation. But it sounds kind of like the thought process is that there is this underpriveleged segment of society that constitutes an employment pool that will be grateful for any kind of low-paying job.

    No, I'm not seeing the glass half empty, but I really think that when The Dream Reborn convenes they should discuss setting a new precedent in employment standards...encourage companies NOT to have their new green business models based on how cheap they can buy labor. Let's take a stand for a livable wage and lasting benefits for all workers, right from the start. It will do nothing but improve our communities, minority or otherwise.

    And think hard before you start promoting and mandating policies that will ultimately further strain the budgets of low and middle income people who are already stretched to the max. Don't just think of 'green' as being something you, the advocate, are willing to do and able to afford. We'd all have hybrid cars and solar panels if we could afford them!

  • Tim (unverified)

    Talking about glass half empty that's the Hilton Hotel when they claim to be a green hotel and they won't even concider bass passes for their workers or even discounted passes which would take care of air polusion caused by cars. Tell them to step up to the plate by Contacting Tracy Marks at the Hilton 503-226-1611.

  • (Show?)

    MCT: Actually, if you read what Van Jones and Congressional leaders are saying here, you'll see that much of what they are talking about is "living wage jobs." Not low-paying, service sector jobs. The green economy is about new technology, and technology calls for skilled workers (think solar installers, wind turbine technicians). Skilled workers (especially those in high demand) make more money than those who do not have specialized skills.

    Your comment about low and middle-income budgets is pertinent, but in response, I would say nothing hits a low-income person harder than hurricanes, severe storms and drought and disruption in food systems which are probable outcomes if we do nothing.

    The new economy is moving in on us whether we accept it or not; I'm arguing that we should mold it to fit our social and environmental goals rather than just letting it happen in a way that will hurt those who can least afford it.

  • Opinionated (unverified)

    What does going green have anything to do with being a minority in the Portland metro area or any area for the matter. Does the minority emit any more pollution or live in worse polluted area? I am a "minority" with severe asthma and live in one of those "low" asthma case neighborhoods. My asthma has nothing to do with any more or any less pollution.

    Yes going solar will be an amazing transformation, but going solar in this country is too darn expensive. So its going to take some time. I was looking at the small solar setup at my kids school in west hills. It serves a small portion of their power needs, but it was expensive to setup.

    This vision that going green is going to somehow create this massive uplift in the "economically disadvantaged" group of minorities is flawed. Better education is going to drive the economically disadvantaged to a better living - whether they are white, black, brown blue, green or any combination of races, colors creed. I don't care for these percentages. I can point to remote regions in the south and midwest that are predominantly white, with no economic advantage other than limited government handouts that thrive on drugs. Putting solar panels on their roof-tops will not create economic advantage. Its not going to bring the revolution thats necessary to make a significant impact. Our dependance on oil is not going to subside that easily. Get the economically disadvantage access to the same education that is available to advantaged and you will see real transformation.

    I have a strong opinion about this!

  • MCT (unverified)

    Good to know, and thanks for responding, Leslie. I still don't understand how this green movement will be more beneficial to "minority communities" than any other community where people are struggling to put food on the table and keep their homes. Will there be special grants and scholarships for minorities (even more than there are now?)to get these specialized skills? Sallie Mae is on the brink of collapsing, so the student loan program won't be much help. (Pay off your student loans people!)Would only the specialized skill workers get a livable wage? How about the folks who clean the green building?

    My point is even service sector jobs should not be low wage! Many folks think "unskilled" means no skills....and so have less value. Every job has a skill set. Just try getting through one week if all the service sector workers stayed home. Who would pump your gas, clean your office, haul off your waste, ring up your purchases, and brew your lattes? This mind set that these workers' jobs are less important that the ones who make solar panels has got to be re-thought. Not everyone can get an education. If they did there wouldn't be enough high paying jobs for them.

    But everyone in this wealthiest nation on earth (for now, anyway) should have the right to earn a wage that gives them a sustainable standard of living, and we are doomed if we don't make that happen. It's way past time to start sharing the wealth, which may mean a bit less in the share-holders pockets, but in the long run will make for a better world.

    There are a thousand little ways to go green, as individuals. I've made my home as energy efficient as possible. I re-use, recycle and compost. I don't buy throwaway products, and when I have a choice I choose the product with less packaging. I'd like to stop buying anything not made in the US... but the selection is dwindling, and economics often dictate my purchase. Like so many Americans I feel guilty, but also know I am not responsible for NAFTA and such. I can't afford a new hybrid, but I do drive an older gas-sipper. Which is more than I can say for a lot of my wealthier neighbors who don't bother to recycle anything, and drive energy consuming elephants, because they can. It IS time consuming work, sorting and cleaning stuff for the recycle bins. And I realize that not everyone is in a location to compost. When are we going to have compost containers we can fill and have picked up at curbside? THAT would put a huge dent in the landfill problem. And we should pay the person who picks it up a livable wage, even if it means taxpayers have to make up the difference. I think it would have more impact that say....taxpayers recycling the Sauvie Island Bridge to create a special small section of roadway for downtown bicyclists!

    Sorry to ramble...I just get tired of the penny-wise, pound-foolish mentality.

  • Opinionated (unverified)

    MCT, you present the real picture for a real America.

  • Joanne Rigutto (unverified)

    I think MCT has the right idea as far as going green. Sure solar power and wind generators are great, but unless they can be put on every house, etc. it's not going to make much of a dent because those things are so expensive and yield so little power that there won't be enough of them used. Personally if I was going to use anyting, I'd toss the solar and go with wind. I think those are less expensive for the energy yeild. More bang for your buck, so to speak.

    However, the thing that will make a real dent are the little things that MCT mentioned. Things that everyone can do. Encouraging people to grow their own food when they can, buy local as much as possible, recycle as much as possible, combine trips, etc., those are the actions that will make the real difference because enough people can do them.

    I've lived without garbage service for the last 18 years. How do I do that? I recycle or compost almost everything that comes onto the property. I'm fortunate enough to live in the country on a small acreage, and what doesn't go into the garden goes to the chickens which provide eggs and meat for us to eat. Manuer from the livestock gets composted and put on the garden which also produces food for us and will this year produce the grain that some of our animals will eat this winter. Feed bags get reused as garbage bags, baling twine is saved and used for all sorts of things out here from making rope to tieing up the beans and tomato plants.

    When I buy things at the store, I don't just look at the product and the price, but I'm thinking about the container too, what can I use it for? Can I freeze tomatos in that or store freezer jam? I use a lot of seasoned rice vineagar, I buy it by the gallon and pour smaller amounts into a smaller container for every day use. When the jug is empty it's cleaned out and used for other things or recycled. Not only have I done some multitasking with that product, but I've saved some money because I didn't have to buy an extra container, etc..

    I'm a contractor, when I have tile, stone, mortar or grout, etc. left over from a job, I take it home. The old mortar gets made into blocks that I'll use around the place, and the left over tile and stone gets broken up and turned into gravel.

    There are hundreds of different things that we can all do in our every day lives. That's what will make the biggest difference, because everyone can do something if not several things to make a difference, not just the wealthy who can afford fancy solar panels. I think of it like money, the solar panels and things like that are dollars, and us doing the little things are dimes. A few people have dollars, but all of us have dimes, lots and lots of dimes.

  • Uh-Oh (unverified)

    Blah, blah, blah. Going green in 2008 is like going to a discotheque in 1978.

    Global Climate Change is soooo 1998. Y'all need a new publicist.

    <h2>GET OVER IT!</h2>

connect with blueoregon