January 20, 2022

In A Wretched Year Green Jobs Are An Achievement. We Need to Know More.

Training for advanced energy-efficient manufacturing jobs act eKAMI in Kentucky. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

The country is a political mess. A dark era has set in. Washington and state capitals are clearly more interested in stoking the flames of division and stirring the winds of distraction than on confronting the terrible trends — climate, guns, pandemic, youth suicide — that endanger Americans.

Despite ourselves a few sectors seem to assure we haven’t completely lost our capacity to succeed. One of those is the expansion of the green jobs market. Projections made a decade ago that sizable numbers of stable higher-wage “green jobs” would result from public and private investment in sustainable pursuits have turned out to be accurate.

Still, the emergence of green jobs across significant economic sectors, from farming to energy, transportation to construction to manufacturing, has received scant attention in any media, even among environmental organizations. The news desk that recognizes this as a big American story has a significant opportunity, and a responsibility, to develop a new narrative about an industrial revolution that is every bit as significant as the era-changing transition from sailing schooners to steamboats. What’s more, that story is formed in large part from the legislative and regulatory goals and the operating strategy that environmental groups, particularly the Environmental Defense Fund, has championed for decades: developing an industrial culture and national economy that draws its strength from practices and tools that safeguard the environment. 

Yellowstone Transit Electrification
Among the 4.4 million people who visited Yellowstone National Park so far this year, by far the largest number since the park was established in the 19thcentury, several thousand participated in an electrified, AI transportation trial that was entirely 21st. Two autonomous 10-seat electric vehicles developed by Florida-based Beep Inc. and manufactured by Arizona-based LM Industries, shuttled passengers on fixed routes in Canyon Village. 

As an example of carbon-reducing, congestion-relieving American ingenuity put to good uses the Beep shuttle attracted some attention in the transportation and good government media. For the purposes of EDF’s proposed green jobs media project, so much more can and needs to be said. 

The Beep shuttle simultaneously pursues ecologic and economic goals. It’s essential to remind ourselves that the statutes and regulations that form the foundation of American environmental policy and progress, are essentially an economic development program. Measures that made the United States cleaner and safer also made America more prosperous. The U.S. GDP is almost four times bigger in real dollars than it was in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day. We’re way past the era when opponents can make any sensible case that environmental progress damages the economy.

But we’re not nearly effective enough in showing people what the Yellowstone shuttle and so many other industrial innovations represent for environmentalism or job security. Beep is a microcosm of the economic trends, technological prowess, government support, and ecological urgency that have converged to form a green jobs-rich industrial era. It’s tantamount to an industrial revolution. 

The Beep’s parts were manufactured and the vehicle was assembled by US workers in American factories. The operation and maintenance technicians were trained in US centers. The autonomous technology, and the digitized equipment to guide the vehicle are American innovations.[1]The market for such vehicles in places like airports, city centers, retirement communities, and inner ring suburbs is enormous. In effect Beep’s autonomous vehicles, and the jobs developed to manufacture and operate them, are tiny currents in a mammoth wave of energy efficient, resource-conserving, carbon-neutral inventions and practices that are 1) employing untold numbers of Americans in stable, higher-paying jobs, and 2) making the country’s economy stronger and more dynamic. 

AppHarvest’s water-conserving greenhouse under construction oil Kentucky. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

I spent several weeks conducting research to understand these trends. I can tell you I did not come across one online article, one academic paper, one book title that offered more than cursory observations and unconfirmed accounts of the “millions of jobs” that the new wave of eco-centered industrialization promised and apparently has delivered. 

Here lies the exceptional opportunity to quantify, identify, and illustrate the once-in-a-century industrial and employment transition that has been underway in the United States for over a decade. That transition, like interest compounding in a steadily growing national bank account, is gaining momentum largely out of view of most media and most Americans. 

A Bit of Personal History
In 2008 and 2009 I was the communications director at the Apollo Alliance, the San Francisco-based non-profit that was the leading clean energy advocacy group in the country. We produced The New Apollo Program, the comprehensive renewable energy investment strategy that influenced the Obama administration’s work to include $100 billion in clean energy initiatives in the 2009 economic rescue package. The New Apollo Programcalled for a ten-year, $500 billion investment to produce more than 5 million high quality green-collar jobs.[2]If the plan was enacted – much of it has been — the alliance said it would accelerate development of clean energy resources and move the country closer to energy security, climate stability, and economic prosperity. 

Though the Trump administration proved to be an impediment. The Trump idiocy — promoting fossil fuels and neglecting renewable advances — allowed China to take the lead in battery technology, wind and solar development, and other low-carbon sectors that are emerging as the largest industries and employers of the 21st century.

Nevertheless the geography of workplace opportunity laid out by the Apollo Alliance is coming to pass in the United States. President Biden’s infrastructure bill, approved in November, gives the green jobs sector historic economic support. Yet no media desk in or outside the American environmental community has effectively told the rest of the story.

Energy efficient, material-conserving mass timber walls being manufactured in Katerra’s plant in Spokane. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Job One 
It doesn’t mean anything to say there are “millions” of green jobs.  We know that a lot already exist. A McKinsey study, for instance, showed that government spending on renewable energy creates 50 more jobs per $10 million invested than spending on fossil fuels.[3]But calculations like that are almost all we have for the time being.Estimates are all over the place.[4]

Green jobs exist in transportation, energy development, utilities, construction, infrastructure, agriculture, housing, manufacturing, and other sectors. It is not-known how many people are employed in green jobs or what influence they have in the economic well-being of families, communities, states, and the nation.  

Another problem is defining green jobs. My proposed definition is “jobs that markedly limit or eliminate ecological damage, and improve environmental and economic conditions.”

Other definitions have been offered. The Century Foundation, for instance, defines a green job as “contributing to preserving or enhancing the well-being, culture, and governance of both current and future generations, as well as regenerating the natural resources and ecosystems upon which they rely. In order for green jobs themselves to be sustainable, they need to be good, living-wage jobs.”

In 2009, as part of the economic recovery bill, Congress appropriated $500 million for the two-year-old Green Jobs Act. Among the line items was money to enable the Bureau of Labor Statistics to report on the green jobs sector. The first BLS assessment was issued in 2010. The program was defunded in 2013.

The BLS says “green jobs are either a) jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources; or b) jobs in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources.”The BLS also limited “green jobs” to three categories: renewable energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.

A 2013 report from the BLS Green Goods and Services survey estimated that there were 3.4 million workers employed in GGS-related jobs in 2011, nearly 160,000 more than in 2010. The sectors with the largest share of green employment were construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting, as well as management of companies. Some 2.5 million were in private industry or 2.3% of total private industry employment, and nearly 900,000 were in the public sector or 4.2% of public sector employment.[5]

In 2017, the BLS projected that wind turbine service technicians and solar installers would be the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. for a decade.[6]The same year EDF reported in 2017 that the green economy comprised of 4 million to 4.5 million workers, up from 3.4 million in their previous report using 2011 data.[7]

The 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report found that in 2016 there were 800,000 workers working in low carbon emission energy generation technology, and 2.35 million working in some part to design, manufacture, or distribute energy efficient products.[8]

A Brookings report in 2019 found 1.3 million workers in clean energy production, 4.4. million in energy efficiency, and 877,000 in environmental management – using 2016 data.[9]

LinkedIn reported several months ago that its jobs data in 2015 showed that the ratio of US oil/gas jobs to renewables/environment jobs was 5 to1. By 2020 the ratio was 2 to 1.[10]

We need to do the frontline reporting and data gathering that moves understanding of green jobs beyond that offered by the US Government.Bottom line: No one really knows how many green jobs exist. And no one has done a decent job exploring how many could be developed over the next few decades.

American coal is declining. Empty coal cars in eastern Kentucky. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Job Two

We ought to focus on three primary employment sectors. Union workers. Underprivileged and underserved rural and minority workers. Young people. 

The theme is opportunity. The highly educated and highly skilled people in science, technology, energy development, academia, government and other sectors are already taking part in the green economy. 

People that are entering the green job workforce or seek assistance in making the transition from other jobs would welcome the details they learn from this project. 

The focus on union workers, underserved rural and minority workers, and young people helps to address the uneven development patterns that exist in the U.S. The country’s economic growth has been concentrated in a handful of places. Just 6% of counties account for two-thirds of GDP output. Over the past decade, 25 U.S. megacities and high-growth hubs generated more than two-thirds of the nation’s job growth. Roughly 2,000 rural counties that are home to 80 million Americans have had higher unemployment and lower educational attainment during the same period.[11]

Certainly, comprehensive reporting should account for significant green job opportunities in major sectors like electric vehicle manufacturing under way at nameplate American companies — Tesla, Ford, and GM. And rising vehicle manufacturers like Rivian and Beep. Electric truck manufacturers. Solar and wind jobs are a must for the project. So are electric transmission companies and utilities. Home builders developing improved energy efficiency. 

Here are some sources to identify work underway and green job opportunities in lesser known places:

Garbage to Gold in Miami
Alexina Prather, the founder, developed a composting project that turns food waste into nutrient rich soil. She also has a designer brand that relies on recycled clothing.

Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Chicago 
Founder Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Fellow, and a Phd. Sociologist from the University of Chicago, developed a green jobs re-entry program for helping formerly incarcerated men and at-risk youth. He developed a hands-on training program for green home retrofits. 

Green For All in Oakland
Van Jones developed this project help lift people out of poverty. The project train people for job opportunities in the distributed solar and wind sectors in northern California. Jones was the primary instigator for convincing President George W. Bush to sign The Green Jobs Act in 2007, the first piece of federal legislation to codify the term “green jobs.”[1]During the Obama Administration, the legislation resulted in $500 million in national funding for green jobs training, and connecting economic vitality with social justice and the environment.

Even in Houston, the start of a light rail transit system. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Strongbow Strategies
Clara Pratte, a decorated Navajo Nation leader, founded this professional services and consulting firm to benefit local communities on tribal land. A former executive with Navajo Power, she specialized in solar energy projects. 

Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation in Los Angeles
Shawn Escoffery, the executive director has pushed the foundation to invest in innovation and community leadership to “build a more just, equitable and sustainable world in which all people thrive.” Prior to joining the Disney foundation, Escoffery was a Surdna Foundation program officer in New York who worked on grants for sustainable development and access to quality jobs. He’s a good source for where to look for interesting companies and green jobs

Kelly Kay, a faculty member of the UCLA Department of Geography, was involved in developing the Los Angeles Green New Deal plan to phase out fossil fuel infrastructure. She’s an excellent source for firms, companies and green job employment connected with executing the plan.

Teenagers as Energy Conservation Stewards in Los Angeles
With the help of the California Public Utilities Commission a student team is developing an “interactive educational module” to change the attitude and mindset of energy consumption among teenagers. The intent is to “empower teenagers with the knowledge and confidence to act as energy conservation stewards within their households and beyond.”

Green Collar Job Network is a national alliance of communities supporting green collar jobs.

BlueGreen Alliance is a melding of unions and environmental groups supporting green jobs.

South Grand Community Improvement District in St. Louis
Involves residents in green job training and inner-city sustainable projects. Rachel Witt is the executive director.

Second Chances Farm in Wilmington, Delaware
Founded by Ajit George. The company trains and employs formerly incarcerated people in its indoor vegetable growing operation. The company says it fights “recidivism while simultaneously addressing other serious issues like pollution, climate change, unemployment, quality of produce, and food deserts.”

AppHarvest in Rowan County, Kentucky
A four-year-old public company that operates mammoth greenhouses for vegetable and berry production in a number of Kentucky communities. The company’s Kentucky-born founders seek former coal miners to operate greenhouses that capture, store, and recycle rainwater for its crops, and use wasps and other non-chemical means to control pests and disease. 













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