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Week of 11.14.08

The Future of Green Jobs

Chip Giller Chip Giller, founder of the environmental news site Grist.org, talks to NOW about the future of so-called green collar jobs, his hopes for the Obama Administration, and offers help for those looking for green job opportunities.

NOW: We are hearing more and more about so-called green collar jobs. What is a green collar job exactly?

That's a great question, and one that a lot of people are beginning to ask as this term gains currency. In the most basic sense, a "green-collar job" is the 21st Century version of a "blue-collar job." The idea is that the growth of industries like renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and green building will provide new opportunities for workers to apply their skills, or to learn new skills. (You'll hear the term used more broadly, too, to refer to any green-leaning job, but the organization that has really pushed this term into the foreground—a group called Green for All, led by the visionary Van Jones—focuses on the lower and middle class.) We need to create jobs that will not only help people, but help this country and this planet get back on track. Examples range from installing solar panels to working on a hybrid vehicle assembly line to retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency.

NOW: What jobs will be eliminated as a result of the green industry?

In terms of the question of what jobs will be eliminated as a result of the "green industry," I'd say that's a false dichotomy. The green industry is not something that will rise alongside our conventional industries, stealing its workers away in the night. It is a transformation of those conventional industries, a shift in our thinking—and a necessary shift if we are going to tackle climate change head on, as we must.

NOW: President-elect Obama said on the campaign trail that he would help create five million green jobs over the next decade. With so many problems currently confronting the U.S., do you think this is a realistic goal?

He definitely has plenty of challenges ahead, doesn't he? But this goal is not only realistic, it's necessary. Again, the point I'd make is that green jobs are not a separate issue or some sort of special project. They are going to be crucial to reviving our flagging economy, and to healing our climate. We've already seen incredible growth: in 2006, according to a report from the American Solar Energy Society, fully 8.5 million people were working in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields, and that number is increasing. Of course, the recent economic crisis has made investors a little more cautious, so we're seeing some temporary slowdown there. But they've shown that it's possible—and that makes 5 million jobs over a decade feel entirely doable.

NOW: Do you think that America will be more proactive in terms of environmental policy under an Obama administration? What are you hoping for?

You could hardly be less proactive than our country has been over the last eight years, so my short answer is yes. In terms of specific hopes, I'd like to see the Obama Administration invest in green infrastructure, which would put people to work immediately, while laying the foundation for sustainable long-term growth. I'd say the top three priorities are a smart, integrated national electrical grid; expanded urban and long-distance public transit; and block grants to states to kick-start development projects already in the pipeline.

With smart regulations and investments, the next administration could provide immediate economic stimulus, generate millions of jobs, and boost U.S. competitiveness—all while tackling the looming problems of climate change and energy security.

NOW: What resources would you recommend for someone who is interested in getting a green collar job?

I'd point folks to Green for All Another group that's doing good work on this issue is the Apollo Alliance. You can look around the web for job listings—we have a job board at Grist.org, and there are others out there—and I'd also recommend checking with your state labor department for training opportunities. Finally, keep an eye out for local companies that are involved in green undertakings—they'll be easier and easier to find as our economy rebounds, and as more people realize that green is the key to a healthier future for us all.

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