Thursday, November 19, 2009

My little suggestion for next year's state-level work

© 2009 Joshua Stark

Yesterday, I was able to attend the California League of Conservation Voters' Green California Summit. It was well-organized, as usual, with relevant topics and great discussions.
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Of course, the looming concern for this group of folks is next year's legislative and regulatory climates in the face of a nearly $21 billion projected budget deficit. One strategy (and one that comes up annually) is to consider alliances with other communities (labor, business, etc.) when our goals align. In this light, and considering the "Jobs!Jobs!Jobs!" mantra that EVERY interest group touts for their projects, I have proposed one idea: Be brutally, brutally honest about the jobs.

Environmental groups have wrapped the "jobs" tag around quite a few projects, and I've been guilty of this, myself, where I think it's true in places. But, now is the time to open up about how and where those jobs will hit, and what the true opportunity costs will be if we enact projects that will build "green" jobs, vs. the status quo.

First, define your terms. The community needs a good, solid definition of "green" jobs. My suggestion: Any job that produces net carbon negative without too many impacts on other ecosystem values, and provides wages above the poverty threshold (or even prevailing wages?) should be "green". Remember, we are looking to build sustainable communities that make enough money to afford to leave some land/resources aside, in addition to lessening our environmental impacts. If we don't define this term in some way, however, it will so completely lose its value as to be potentially damaging.

Along with defining "green", define the opposite (hint: Don't call them "brown" or "black", please - maybe something like "bad", or "crappy", as I'm guessing "dirty jobs" is copyrighted).

Then, do an A+B+C=D equation, where A = Green Jobs, B = Crappy Jobs, C = unemployed people, and D = total workforce in the community (I kinda "stole" this from the folks at Env-Econ). I suggest doing this by region, and starting in the Central Valley, not because it's taking water from my community, but because it's economic conditions are as bad as Appalachia.

In this comparison, be honest: More green jobs will mean fewer other jobs. But, define those other jobs, which in the context of the Central Valley, looks good for green, local communities, and labor. Yes, massive solar installations on denuded and fallowed lands will lose farm labor jobs, but they will gain full-time, year-round solar industry employment. In addition, consider how these jobs will cut into unemployment. Mendota claims to be freaked out because its official unemployment rate is over 30%, which is sad and awful, but not much worse than it was during good economic times. Mendotans should be screaming mad at their infrastructure and local government for never trying to get good, steady work developed in its region, but now, with the potential for farming solar, they should be demanding space for these full-time jobs with better wages and benefits.

So, show the math. In the best of times you may lose, say, 2000 ag. jobs to a particular project, but gain 500 green jobs. However, the 500 jobs we'd support would be at, say $15-20/hr., + benefits + full-time work, vs. the current $8-10/hr. seasonal work without benefits. In addition, your ag. jobs aren't there right now, anyway, due to drought and a bad economy, so note that turning fallowed lands benefits locals without driving away current agriculture.

If you add an honest conversation about the created jobs to the benefits of carbon-negative projects and lower impacts on ecosystems, you speak not only to the current budget crisis and economic climate, but also to future quality of life issues for local communities.

Last, attack opponents by pointing out that the status quo vis a vis bad jobs and unsustainable environmental practices is what got us into our current economic crisis. For example, if first-time homebuyers in the Central Valley had full-time work with good wages, they would have been much less susceptible to predatory lending practices. They also would have been more able and willing to help with diesel truck retro-fits to improve air quality. Had they been given access to sustainable and alternative energy sources for transportation, or even mass transit, we would have been able to weather the oil market instability which helped drive down the consumer economy just before the financial crisis hit. We have been good at telling people what will happen, but maybe its time to explain what just happened in light of bad environmental and jobs practices, and then offer the alternative in the form of sustainable jobs with good wages and benefits.

It's just a couple of small suggestions.

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