Just Green Jobs

Organizers of the Power Shift Canada 2009 conference are looking to bring hundreds of young activists from across the country to Ottawa, from October 23-26, to discuss climate change in the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December. But along with climate change, the Ottawa conference will also be looking to empower attendees to participate in the transition to green jobs.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Powless, a Power Shift organizer and member of such groups as the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition and the Indigenous Environmental Network. He had just returned from the Green For All Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, where 50 attendees, 49 from the United States and one—Powless himself—from Canada, were coming up with ways to bring green jobs to the forefront of both the environmental and social/economic justice movements.

“We [the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition] started setting up our own working groups [on green jobs], and really not seeing a lot of movement on the ground around green jobs: I mean you can find a few policy documents by some environmental groups, you can find some stuff on their website, but nobody’s out there in the streets talking about it.

“The focus around green jobs is to try and imagine a society and an economy—a way of life—that is environmentally sustainable: to try and imagine the actual jobs and the transition that we would have to go through,” said Powless.

“[Green jobs] are positions from all aspects of the economy, from typically what’s called ‘blue collar’ work right up to ‘white collar’ work, from research to actual design, to manufacturing,” said Powless. “As well as things like simply going into houses and fixing them up: construction, manufacturing. So it really focuses on…fundamental aspects of our society, from our energy sources, our food sources, to the way we build things and the way we consume things, and eventually [the way we] have to recycle [those things].”
A march in support of green jobs legislation in New Mexico. Photo: Navajo Green Jobs

A march in support of green jobs legislation in New Mexico. Photo: Navajo Green Jobs

A march in support of green jobs legislation in New Mexico. Photo: Navajo Green Jobs

To transition to a more sustainable way of organizing our society, understanding that we need to reorient our entire workforce toward sustainability—making green work work—will be vital in addressing the global environmental challenges we face.

Granted, the effort is more than understanding what “green work” entails. It is also about coordinating a just transition in implementing these programs, to ensure that we are working toward social, economic, and environmental justice together.

“[The concept of green jobs] tries to address at the same time the fundamental social inequalities in our societies, especially tackling issues of poverty…[and] marginalized communities frequently not having access to most aspects of the environmental movement and not having access to a clean, healthy, safe environment.”

Green jobs are not just about making the world a cleaner place. According to Powless, there is “a human rights basis to it: that people of colour, people from poor communities, have just as much a right—in many cases even more of a right where their communities have been marginalized in the past—to participate in this new economy.

“If we don’t actually make sure that it’s led by communities, it’s not going to be the poorer communities who get access to their own sources of energy, who get access to energy audits.

“And it’s going to be especially immigrant and poorer communities who don’t have access to education and training [and] who are not going to be able to get those jobs, and are not going to be able to be involved in setting up any of those programs.”

To break the cycle of marginalization of poor and immigrant communities as the green jobs movement expands, Powless says it’s crucial for the green jobs movement “to make sure that…these communities are able to be there at the table as some of the main initiators of this discussion. And I think that’s why…we have to really start getting these people involved now.”

Another key aspect of the transition is keeping a local focus. “Remodelling a house, doing energy audits, installing renewable energy systems…local community agriculture, community gardens—these are all fundamentally local processes, and it can be replicated on a wide scale in most urban and even semi-urban centres across North America, and in a lot of other places.

“And these are the kind of things that can’t be outsourced, and [they] provide secure employment for people.”

  • This article first appeared at The Dominion.
  • Greg Macdougall is a member of Common Cause, an Ontario anarchist organization. He is also active with the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa and Equitable Education. Read other articles by Greg.

    12 comments on this article so far ...

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    1. Deadbeat said on October 24th, 2009 at 12:00am #

      Marching for a … JOB!!!!

      Wow GREEN wage slavery — how quaint.

      HO HO HO … Green Slavery.

    2. Don Hawkins said on October 24th, 2009 at 5:20am #

      CANBERRA, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned the nation on Wednesday to brace for a severe bushfire season as fire crews battled intense blazes stoking memories of infernos earlier this year which killed 173 people.

      With the fire season barely under way, firefighters from two Australian states have been battling huge blazes threatening the northeastern tropical city of Rockhampton and coastal hamlets further south in New South Wales.

      “I would urge all Australians to make sure they are fully prepared for the challenges which will be alive during this bushfire season,” Rudd told parliament.

      Authorities have warned the current fire season could rival “Black Saturday” blazes in February which scorched through southern Victoria state, destroying more than 2,000 homes and leaving behind a A$1.12 billion ($1.04 billion) insurance bill.

      Those fires, fanned by a heat wave and winds topping 100 km per hour, caused the highest ever loss of life from bushfire in the world’s most fire-prone country.

      But with drought, climate change and dry forest undergrowth combining to create perfect fire conditions across much of the country, authorities say the December-February summer months could bring the highest fire risk Australia has ever faced. REU

      On the other end of planet Earth the lid has been taken off and weather not climate will be changing fast for the Northern Hemisphere. I see where some are witting about how Many Americans are cooling to the idea of climate change. The truth about what is coming down the track just might be good but we can’t handle the truth that’s right but I guess we can handle the truth illusion that a few people who control media, bank’s, business, policy and our thoughts tell us sort of in between the games people play now every night and everyday now, oh the games people play. Did anybody happen to see Glenn Beck and his baseball bat prop, so cool. Remember these people are anything but at calm at peace there nut’s.

    3. Obstreperous said on October 24th, 2009 at 6:28pm #

      Maybe green pet chefs too?
      Hey, let’s just go for it…Soylent Green.

    4. kalidas said on October 25th, 2009 at 7:07am #

      More like Goylent Green.

    5. kalidas said on October 25th, 2009 at 9:00am #

      Minus the choice cuts, of course…
      You know, the kidneys, livers, hearts, eyes, etc.

    6. lichen said on October 25th, 2009 at 2:18pm #

      Yes, green jobs are very important–with so many people unable to live because of lack of employment, clearly, we need to give everyone oppurtunities and positions that are not reinforcing the chemicalization, pollution, and destruction of this planet.

    7. Max Shields said on October 25th, 2009 at 3:03pm #

      Green jobs are fine, but in the end they are a cynical attempt to push the problem from it’s source.

      In order to understand the problem it is essential to understand its massive expanse. Green jobs, planting trees, changing light bulbs, going to a park, are cyncial politically correct slogans to a problem that is global, deeply systemic and institutionalized. It is bound up in geopolitical corporate trade agreements, the dissolvement of sovereignty, replaced by hegemonic take over wherever “US national interest” demands it. Our attempts to solve it by doing more of the same with green “paint” is a joke that is doomed for a tragic ending…and it is all about keeping what is just the way it is.

    8. russell olausen said on October 25th, 2009 at 6:04pm #

      Just a big distraction, the real green agenda has people standing under a tree to keep the snow off. The powers that be know only a command economy will reduce carbon and we all know from 90 years of propaganda what bolshevism looks like with boots on.

    9. b99 said on October 26th, 2009 at 10:03am #

      Russell – Why does it take a command economy to reduce carbon emissions? Are not regulations a daily part of living in a civilized society? Why can’t our goverment throw its support behind alternative fuels the way it threw its support behind say, the devlopment of the computer chip a couple of decades ago?

    10. Max Shields said on October 26th, 2009 at 3:38pm #

      Alternative energy is certainly something the government could “throw its support behind”, but more, much more is needed. All too frequently we look only at production (which is what energy is all about) and rarely about consumption (upstream and down). Ignoring consumption is a major problem. Looking at our needs from a consumption perspective, shifts the entire scope of the problem and makes solutions much more achievable (and I would argue on a heightened moral and sustainable plan).

      Like alternative energy, technology will not solve this problem, in fact alternative energy is about technological solutions to non-technological problems.

      Computer chips are a poor (tho appreciated) comparison.

      But for sure, subsidization is a big issue, and one that could, if applied appropriately do much to begin the process. Energy though needs to be looked at from the other end – are there limits to our material wants and needs? Would a reduction in demand, stablize our energy needs regardless of the source?

    11. B99 said on October 26th, 2009 at 4:29pm #

      But the notion of throwing government support behind alternative energy is the empirical answer to Russell’s offer that only a command economy will reduce carbon emissions. But to say that computer chips are a poor comparison is to miss that point. Historical computer chip development support by the gov’t is the precise analog to gov’t support for alternative energy.

      What is proven to change consumption patterns is an economic downturn. Maybe nothing else can do so. Alternative energy will be forced on us by a long-term diminished economic condition. They will accompany each other.

    12. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on October 27th, 2009 at 8:23am #

      Also progress-regress shld be part of a governance; i.e., constitution shld guarantee that in a very-well-developed and getting-better-democracy people shld be in on also consumption-education-innovation, etc.

      If only some people, whether 0001% or 5%, largely or wholy control also these aspects of life, this can be booked as debit and not as profit or progress.
      This too is regression!
      Alas, in US we do not have even an incipient democracy. What we have there appears the best-developed fascist governance ever set up and thus have also fascist gov’ts.

      Without elimination or diminishment of fascism, all that is left to do is patching old pants.
      Possibly no progress is possible without regress. However, progress-regress managed by a much democratic society wld be more palatable or people might decide that we have not any socalled progress if there is probability that some people wld get hurt!
      Wld the actual rulers go for this? Not likely! As long as 90%+ of people are near-utterly excluded from a governance, we can only expect the usual: crimes against aliens and nature! tnx