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Green Workers Need a Voice in the Climate Change Debate

Brendan Smith

Working out on my oyster boat this week, I've been slurping my catch and wondering what sort of future lies ahead for those of us who work in industries already being impacted by climate change.

Some like me will be the first to experience the negative effects: I run a small organic oyster farm that faces extinction within the next 40 years because my oysters will not survive rising carbon emissions. Friends of mine are firefighters already facing hotter and more frequent wildfires.

Others work in industries that will gain jobs as a result of efforts to protect the climate: as electrical workers installing solar panels, steelworkers assembling wind turbines and as government workers being redeployed as environmental accountants.

Still others work in industries that will be transformed by climate protection policies, such as coal mining and forestry, who need and want to be part of the green workforce of the future.


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As workers we stand on the front lines of the transition to a new green economy. Those of us earning our living in industries impacted by climate change and who believe in the need for both good jobs and sustainable environmental policy, have a stake in the national and global climate change debate and in building a greener, more just economy.

Unlike everyone else, we have both our livelihoods and our planet on the line, giving us a special interest and role in finding real solutions to climate change that also address the economic dimension effectively.

So far, as the politicians fiddle while the world burns, we've remained on the sidelines. We have a stake in the outcome of this fight. It's time to come together and play a role in shaping our future.


Brendan Smith is an journalist, oysterman and labor activist. He is co-founder of Global Labor Strategies, co-director of the UCLA Law School’s Globalization and Labor Standards Project, and a consulting partner with the Progressive Technology Project. Most recently he joined the staff of the Labor Network for Sustainability, dedicated to engaging trade unions, workers and their allies to support economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

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