Last week more than 1,300 business, labor, environmental, and civic leaders -- including some 100 Sierra Club staff, volunteers, speakers, and community partners -- took part in the seventh annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.
The conference, whose motto is, "Where Jobs and the Environment Meet," focused on repairing the infrastructure Americans rely on every day -- our water systems, electrical grid, transit, road, pipelines, and schools -- with an eye toward environmental sustainability and family-sustaining jobs that cannot be outsourced.
The Sierra Club is one of the primary sponsors of the conference, along with the BlueGreen Alliance, the United Steelworkers (USW), and Alcoa.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune (below) was among the keynote speakers on the conference's opening day. "We need to recreate our economy with clean energy that takes the place of fossil fuels," Brune said. "Everybody here knows it’s going to be a challenge to do that. But we must. The ultimate rewards for all of humanity when we achieve that goal will be greater than we can imagine. The Sierra Club is 100 percent committed to creating an economy that is 100 percent powered with clean energy."
BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster (below), who emceed the conference, said that "to some of our critics, 'good jobs, green jobs' is a quaint notion; that you can have both good jobs and a clean environment. But you can't solve a 21st-century problem like climate change with the 19th-century infrastructure that caused it. The theme of this year's conference -- Protect, Produce, Prosper -- sums it all up: We can create all the jobs we need and fix our environmental problems by repairing America."
A secondary theme that ran through the conference was the growing income disparity between the very wealthy and all other Americans, and how the middle class will benefit from the creation of good, green jobs. "One thing 20th-century America taught the world is that a lot of wealth in a few hands is never going to be as productive as a lot of wealth in a lot of hands," Foster said.
Also speaking at the opening plenary session were USW President Leo Gerard (at left), AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Gerard recalled that when the USW and the Sierra Club joined forces to create the BlueGreen Alliance seven years ago, their shared concerns were carbon emissions, chemical safety, and trade. "Then you come back seven years later and you see what we've done," he said. "The membership of the affiliate organizations in the BlueGreen Alliance represents 14 million Americans. Imagine what we could do to advance our agenda if we mobilized that membership."
Trumka (below) followed, saying that the biggest challenges facing our society are climate change and restoring economic prosperity. "I'm here on behalf of the labor movement to tell you we remain committed to stopping runaway climate change," he said. "There is no other path for our children and grandchildren. We must keep up the fight for generations to come. The people who want to solve climate change must engage with the people whose jobs are at stake. The challenge of climate change can only be solved when we find a formula of clean energy that meets every day people's needs."