Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Greening the Stimulus
distributed 1/9/09 - ©2009

Imagine a nation sliding into economic crisis. And imagine -- just hypothetically, of course -- that plans were being formed to invest three-quarters of a trillion dollars in an economic stimulus designed to jolt the nation, and the world, back into economic health.

If they put you in charge of shaping the stimulus, how would you allocated the money?

Part of what might be desired -- in our hypothetical situation -- is quick action. The money should be put to work right away, so that it could spread through the society with a rapid ripple effect. Some people might talk about projects with "shovels in the dirt", where plans are already defined, and contracts can be signed almost immediately. With a stimulus, there's no time to formulate long-term plans, create new systems, and develop new technologies. We've got to work with what we already have, and use projects that are "on the shelf" already.

So, if they put you in charge of hundreds of billions of dollars, to be used where detailed plans are already in place, where would you invest it?

You could easily tap into industries that have big ideas and good political connections. The blueprints are already drafted for coal-fired power plants, highways that will support suburban and exurban sprawl, and airport expansions. These construction jobs would put lots of people to work in a hurry, and get us back on track with our industrial economy of growth and resource use.

But, if you were in charge of the stimulus, I think you might have some concerns about pouring billions and billions of bucks into work that adds to our already severe ecological problems. If you could shape where a huge investment would take the country, I hope you would be inclined to target places where job creation would also move us toward sustainability and ecological health.

You might limit money that is used for roads to the repair of decaying infrastructure, instead of new highways, and you might invest in public transportation, too. (I know that Denver would be more than happy to receive substantial funding for the well-planned expansion of our light rail and commuter rail system!)

You might put people to work on energy efficiency projects -- insulating buildings, replacing windows, updating heating and cooling systems, changing lights. Those projects would create good jobs now, and would have permanent value in reducing our energy use. Solar collectors could be installed on public buildings. Sewage treatment systems and storm sewers could be updated. You might look favorably at proposals for affordable housing, built to rigorous "green" standards. You might want to put money into the construction and renewal of schools, instead of airports.

There are good and worthwhile jobs restoring wetlands, planting trees, cleaning up "brownfields" with low levels of industrial waste, and reducing fire danger in the vast stretches of western forests that have been devastated by beetles. Teams of people could be put to work, within weeks, clearing invasive plant species like tamarisk that upset the ecological health of river valleys in the western US.

If you brought eco-justice principles into your allocation of the stimulus funds, you'd probably put an emphasis on "green-collar jobs" with family-supporting wages and a career ladder to move low-income workers into higher-skilled occupations.

If you were in charge of a national economic stimulus -- because you are so wise, compassionate, and enlightened! -- the goal of jump-starting the economy would be combined with commitments to ecological sustainability, economic justice, and the common good of local communities. You'd make sure that the sections of our economy that are stimulated are the ones that we'd all like to see developed for the long-term health of our cities, states, nation and world. The stimulus would be designed to give us a jump-start in the right direction.

If you were in charge of an $800 billion stimulus, I'd be able to sleep well at night, knowing that such a huge program was in good hands.

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The proposal for a stimulus of the US economy is not hypothetical, of course. Something big will happen, probably within the next month. The guidelines and oversight of that program are still being shaped in Washington, with lots of input from state governments, and from powerful lobbyists.

As far as I know, you are not likely to be in charge of this massive public investment. Because I'm not sure what the priorities and goals of the stimulus will be, I'm not sleeping quite as well at night.

Even though there are more than enough green, sustainable and worthwhile projects to use all the stimulus funds -- with plans that could be implemented promptly and efficiently -- there are also well-connected constituencies that would use the federal funds in other ways. If concerned and values-driven citizens like you don't put political pressure on Congress and the incoming Obama administration, the stimulus might end up funding highways, power plants and airports, instead of the countless other programs that we'd prefer.

President-elect Obama has portrayed his stimulus proposal as a plan to "retrofit America" -- rebuilding infrastructure while also investing in alternative energy, modernizing schools, and spreading computer technology to rural areas and in health care. The new administration understands that it is essential to hold together economic vitality, ecological sustainability, and community health. But Mr. Obama needs strong political support from the grassroots to keep those priorities at the core of the stimulus.

There are reputable advocacy groups working to shape the stimulus package toward sustainability and justice.

I urge you to call and/or email your Senators and Representative. (See Project Vote Smart for up-to-date contact information). Tell them to make the stimulus green, smart, sustainable and just -- and tell them that you'll be watching how they vote. Contact political and civic leaders in your state, too, and encourage them to direct their lobbying toward projects that encourage ecological health and community vitality.

You may not be in charge of the multi-multi-billion dollar stimulus package, but as an engaged citizen, you do have an important role to play in shaping what this huge stimulus will do. You can use your political power to stimulate our economy in the right direction.

Make those calls, and send those emails, today. (If nothing else, you could forward this issue of Notes to your Senators and Representative with a short personal note.)

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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