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The San Francisco Chronicle

Green Jobs Help Climate, Boost Social Justice

Brenda Payton

The Bamboo Collective displays a bike made with local bamboo at an event sponsored by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition at Laney College. (Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle)

Jobs that not only help save the planet but
usher individuals and neighborhoods out of poverty - talk about a
silver bullet. If the promise of green jobs sounds too good to be true,
the simplicity of the logic is difficult to resist: Train and hire
people who are economically marginalized in work that is critical but
has been neglected. Instead of poor people getting stuck at the back of
the line, they step to the front of the new technology.

The Bay Area's Van Jones was a visionary, early recognizing the
social justice potential in the green economy. Jones, you may recall,
was hounded out of his job as environmental adviser to the White House
by conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. Jones is the founder of the
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland. In June, the Oakland
Green Job Corps, launched by the Ella Baker Center and the Oakland
Apollo Alliance, graduated its first class of students, previously
handicapped by inadequate education or prison records.

Ian Kim, director of the center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign,
quipped: When organizers began the program three years ago, they didn't
imagine that the first class would graduate during the worst global
recession in decades. Still, the graduates have fared better than one
might imagine. Of the 42, 26 have jobs. Twelve of those are working in
traditional construction jobs but report that their green training has
been an advantage. They've helped their employers identify ways to
reuse materials and save the cost of dump and disposal fees.

The second job corps class is in training, on course to graduate in
June. But organizers are well aware of the pitfall of training people
for jobs that don't exist.

"All along, we've said that would be a waste of resources and time
and it dashes people's hopes," Kim said. "We have to focus on green job
creation. The corps is a great start. But before it can grow to train
400 people, you have to make sure we have 400 jobs. A lot has to be
done in public policy and the private sector to generate green jobs and
help businesses to grow."

In this regard, the city of Oakland has emerged as a leader. In
June, the Oakland City Council adopted some of the country's highest
targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Meeting those
targets will require changes in everything from transportation to land
use to solid waste disposal. The Oakland Climate Action Coalition, made
up of businesses, labor unions and community organizations, has
submitted 30 policy recommendations of needed changes to the city.

In September, 30 sophomores at Oakland Technical High School became
the first students of the Oakland Tech Green Academy. The three-year
program will teach "eco-literacy." So, for example, students will not
only learn how to install solar panels, but they will learn why solar
energy is important. In addition, Laney College and several other
Oakland groups have innovative green training programs.

"People see hope start in Oakland, and it's become a model for other
cities across the state," said Emily Kirsch, Bay Area organizer for the
Green-Collar Jobs Campaign. She said they have received so many
inquiries about how to set up similar training programs, they are
putting together a tool kit that will be published in print and on the
Internet early next year.

One of the lessons learned by the job corps organizers is the
importance of flexibility. Recognizing the limited number of solar
energy jobs, they shifted the program's focus to energy efficiency. But
they expect the federal Recovery Act's $500 million allocation for
green jobs to kick-start solar and other green construction projects.

A bill introduced by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would provide a $30
billion revolving loan fund to small and midsize businesses for
conversion to clean energy. Supporters say it will create 680,000
direct green jobs and an additional 2 million indirect jobs over five
years; 70 percent of the clean energy systems and components in the
country are currently manufactured overseas.

"Each wind turbine has 5,000 finely machined parts," Kim said. "Yet
wind companies have to import the parts. The U.S. is not manufacturing
them. That's nuts to me."

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