Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Wanted: Green Jobs
distributed 2/6/09 - ©2009

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by Rev. Mark Meeks, of Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado a congregation that has been very involved in local green jobs movement. Mark's generous support helps make this publication possible.

Some decisions don't take a lot of thought. One of those no-brainers came my way a few months ago when Eco-Justice Ministries was invited to join an emerging local coalition on green jobs.

The two people who called with that invitation brought me up to speed on the basics of the green jobs movement, and its merging of environmental and economic priorities. The core principles of that movement are such a close match with the foundational values of eco-justice that it would have been impossible for me to be uninvolved.

In fact, I'm going to extend that imperative for involvement far beyond my representation of Eco-Justice Ministries in a local coalition. The connection between eco-justice and a green economy is so clear that engagement with this movement should be a no-brainer for all environmentally-aware churches. Any congregation with a commitment to caring for creation needs to take on this agenda as a matter for study and ethical reflection, and as a cause for moral witness, community involvement, and political advocacy.

All of that seems perfectly clear to me. Let me provide some background about green jobs that will -- I hope -- let you see the same need for involvement in your church.

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The notion of green jobs has been in circulation for several years. It has been refined and publicized through the meticulous and creative efforts of many scholars, policy experts and community activists. Variations on the theme are inherent in conversations about "the new energy economy" and other environmental intiatives, but the most specific and ethically-grounded discussions talk about "green-collar jobs."

Two of the leading organizational voices in the green-collar movement are the Apollo Alliance and Green for All. They are closely connected in their leadership and vision, and cooperate in many projects and publications. Even a brief visit to their websites will yield lots of vivid stories about local initiatives which embody green-collar perspectives. Both sites have many excellent resources for study and organizing, and links to other important players in the movement.

In one report jointly issued by the two organizations, the basics of green-collar jobs are spelled out. "Green-collar jobs, as we define them, are well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality. Like traditional blue-collar jobs, green-collar jobs range from low-skill, entry level positions to high-skill, higher-paid jobs, and include opportunities for advancement in both skills and wages."

The report says that it is important to emphasize what the phrase does not mean: "Put simply, if a job improves the environment, but doesn't provide a family-supporting wage or a career ladder to move low-income workers into higher-skilled occupations, it is not a green-collar job." It "means more than creating short-term work on individual green projects. It means building a sustainable economy, where environmental goals go hand in hand with social and economic goals." (These quotations all come from page 3 of the report, Green-Collar Jobs in America's Cities, available for download from Green for All.)

Many of the current initiatives for green jobs are focused on renewable energy and energy conservation -- solar and wind power, insulation, etc. -- in part because there's political interest and the possibility of funding for that work. But there are many other arenas where good jobs also enhance environmental sustainability: tree-planting and community gardens; recycling programs; water conservation efforts for homes, industry and agriculture; and programs to reduce pollution or clean up toxic sites. In almost every local community, it is easy to identify places where good jobs and environmental care go together.

I hope it is clear that this cause is important. It appears that there is some broad-based support for the overall goals and principles. The devil, as always, is in the details.

Some of the heated debate now taking place in Washington about the economic stimulus package is directly related to the green-collar jobs distinction. A quick stimulus jolt might create many "green jobs", but a longer-term emphasis would be required to build the basis for a sustainable economy. An article in yesterday's Denver Post, for example, explored the difficulty of developing a rigorously certified weatherization program, training qualified workers, and getting anything done in two years before funding would be cut off. If all funding is for get-it-done-quick, low-skill projects, then the full vision of a green-collar economy will be very hard to achieve.

In the current political debates -- and in churches that take on this cause for study and action --there are a wide range of opinions about how to encourage green-collar jobs. The role of government, business and unions, the appropriate levels of regulation, and the balance between incentive and subsidy are all challenging and potentially conflictual topics. The rough edges between some of the constituencies that are strong advocates for green jobs are reflected in debates between those who have presume ongoing economic growth and those who seek a steady-state economy.

Sorting out the moral and practical factors will not be easy, but these issues will be at the heart of any movement toward eco-justice in our communities, our nation and the world. They must be addressed, and involvement from churches can deepen the quality and expand the scope of this moral conversation.

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I have been blessed through the last six weeks as the Colorado interfaith coalition has taken shape. I have had my thinking and knowledge stretched, and I've met a wonderful variety of people with similar values and goals from business and government, labor and community organizations, environmental and social service agencies, and faith communities. This emerging group has enriched the work of Eco-Justice Ministries as we delve into this essential aspect of creation care and social justice.

Our local coalition has expressed the same core convictions that have shaped the national movement for green jobs. We all know that rapid changes must be made in creating a more sustainable society. We also know that a transformed society must embody baseline elements of economic justice. A sustainable society that tramples on the poor is not acceptable.

Care for the Earth community -- the biosphere and the people together -- is a moral imperative. I feel strongly that churches must go beyond reducing their own environmental footprint, and provide moral leadership about the economic structures of our society. Addressing "green jobs" is an essential part of being a "green church."

I encourage you to explore the on-line resources, and connect with expressions of the green jobs movement in your community. Raise the topic in your church, at least for study and prayer, and preferably for action. And let me know what you're doing so that we can share stories and develop materials to help churches in their support of good green jobs.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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