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February 09, 2011

Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference Day 2

IMG_3062 Today was another educational bonanza at the 2011 Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference. The day started off with some great speeches - including an excellent green jobs and economics lesson from Jared Bernstein, the chief economist and economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.

While Bernstein (pictured) was detailed, I can sum it up for the rest of us who aren't economic gurus: The benefits of a clean energy economy are good. Very good.

I know, I know, I should be a speechwriter.

Next up came a very interesting plenary session on Sustainable Communities moderated by public radio host Kojo Nnamdi. All four speakers in this session were smart, excellent communicators: Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota's fifth district, Lawrence Hanley of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Kathy Gerwig of Kaiser Permanente's Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Office, and Clark Manus of the American Institute of Architects.

The four talked transportation, health care, and green buildings - and how they are part of truly sustainable communities. Not to mention their green job potential.

"Nine percent unemployment is a disgrace," said Rep. Ellison, whose no-holds-barred style of honest speaking was a crowd favorite. "We need to do something with green jobs, and we need to do it now."IMG_3070

(L to R - Manus, Herwig, Hanley, Rep. Ellison, and Nnamdi)

But Hanley from the Amalgamated Transit Union was no slouch, either, as he discussed the problems with transit systems around the U.S.:

"We're seeing the U.S. transit system being dismantled at a time when we believe there are environmental problems and global warming. We've got money to buy bombs and guns for war, but none for transit....We need transit riders to stand up and scream about what's happening."

Meanwhile, Kathy Gerwig of Kaiser Permanente spoke about greening the U.S. health care system. "We get the connection between the environment and health. If we don't do something about pollutants, then we can't take care of health."

I also think Gerwig may have snagged the best quote of the plenary award with this one: "If there's one myth I'd like to bust, it's that being green costs more." She went on to cite how going green in a number of ways at Kaiser Permanente (waste reduction, etc...) has only saved them money.

This discussion led into our nation's aging and crumbling infrastructure as the plenary speakers lameted Congress' lack of motivation to fix the problems.

"We're relying on our grandparents' infrastructure. We need to demand action," said Ellison.

Clark Manus of the American Institute of Architects spoke of the need to view this as a long-term solution - not to excuse our way out of it by only looking at the short-term. "It always costs more to do maintenance," he explained. "You have to think in the long-run - this is worth the investment."

I made it to two workshops after the morning plenary. The first of which was entitled "Easing the Transition Home for Veterans Through Good, Green Jobs." Martin LeBlanc, Director of Sierra Club's Youth Education Programs and Special Projects (check out Sierra Club's Military Families Outdoors program to learn about our excellent work with the military), moderated a panel of excellent guests.

IMG_3096 The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is well above the national average (15.2%!), and panelist William Doe (pictured) of Veterans Green Jobs summed up two major reasons why veterans and green jobs go together perfectly.

#1- Green jobs are service and community oriented, and #2- Green jobs are related to energy security.

Veterans want to serve, are leaders, and have great technical knowledge, and the panelists stressed the importance of helping them ease back into society by providing them with the good jobs in the green economy.

"Putting vets back to work is a moral obligation," said Doe.

Tim Embree of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America echoed that sentiment. "We believe vets will play a vital role in the new economy."

And so the panelists also encouraged attendees to help spread the word about the many job search and training services available to them. Sierra Club is familiar with helping train veterans for green jobs - check out this Compass blog post about our work with Veterans Green Jobs, LiUNA, and others.

Finally in my morning of Good Jobs Green Jobs workshopping - I attended the workshop entitled "Creating Good Jobs and Reducing Global Warming Pollution: How Transportation Can Deliver." This was moderated by Ann Mesnikoff, director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Program.

The panel discussed numerous ways to pay for infrastructure upgrades in the U.S. - everything from increasing the national gas tax, to instilling more tolls on highways, to enacting a fee for Americans' vehicle miles traveled.

(L to R - Shailen Bhatt of the Federal Highway Administration, Deron Lovaas of Natural Resources Defense Council, and Paul Schmidt of Senator Tom Carper's office)

Paul Schmidt, the transportation legislative associate for Delaware Senator Tom Carper, said that just to maintain our nation's infrastructure would require doubling what we spend annually, which means another $60 billion. He said any new of higher gas taxes would have to include progress-measuring goals so Americans can see what's being done with their money.

All in all - while I only spent two mornings at this great conference, I learned a ton and met even more great people. If you get a chance next year, I encourage you to head to Washington, DC, and check it out for yourself!

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Media Team


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