Home > News Room > TEA in the News > Green wave must create jobs for poor

Green wave must create jobs for poor

Mar 14, 2009

Royson James

Add "horticultural infrastructure" to the road and sewer projects that form the traditional backbone of the government-funded stimulus for our failing economy: Green roofs, solar panels, urban forestation, wetlands restoration, energy retrofits, electrical and plumbing fixes that reduce energy consumption, recladding buildings so they are better insulated and energy efficient.

That's the way of the future, we are told, with a tsunami of jobs flowing along the green wave.

New York's charismatic leader of the green-economy movement delivered the green gospel in Toronto yesterday, and the 60 or so civic leaders present hung on every inspiring utterance from Majora Carter, the black woman from the South Bronx.

Still, they left pondering, though not solving, the challenge of our time – one that could tragically waste the opportunity the economic crisis affords. If going green is a preoccupation of white folks, and the gathering accepted that as fact, while perennial job deficit and poverty have a distinctly coloured tinge, how can green jobs end up anywhere but in white hands?

This being the polite company of the city's socially conscious elite, the words weren't quite as blunt, but the subtext was just as direct.

"You produce jobs when you green the ghetto," Carter said, and everybody nodded. After all, she's proven it in the South Bronx, transforming barren landscape into lush livable space, and creating jobs for residents in the process.

Carter pointed to Sweet Beginnings, a Chicago project that hires ex-inmates to make and sell honey-based products to restaurants and hotels. Only a tiny fraction of the ex-prisoners so employed end up back in prison. The recidivism rate in the general population is near 70 per cent. So it works.

But how to get green jobs into the hands of the marginalized, already disproportionately and negatively affected by economic downturns? And how to do it in a recession bordering on a depression?

The task of survival is usually enough to exhaust all but the supermen in poor neighbourhoods. Calls for "citizen engagement" in environmental causes ring pretty hollow when the toilet hasn't been fixed and the bedbugs bite.

So, the same privileged folks who saw the green-jobs tsunami coming stand to catch the wave early and ride off into financial security.

Franz Hartmann, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, posed the challenge environmental groups face in connecting with racialized groups – the very ones who are the poster children for poverty.

Frances Lankin of the United Way suggested Hartmann's people and hers connect, since the United Way is involved in on-the-street contact in Toronto's poorer areas.

Turns out poor people care about a safe place for their kids to play, jobs that don't destroy their health, but really, any job that restores self-esteem. So, link the green movement to jobs and the people who most need the jobs will become ardent tree huggers.

Some 80 per cent of green jobs will go to workers redirected from old-economy jobs, says Carter. It's the remaining 20 per cent that can be gobbled up by the enviro-sharks, if advocates aren't clear in their intent and goal.

"It takes regulation and legislation," Carter said, following her breakfast presentation. "That's where your mayor must focus. He has to say, `These jobs are going to these people in these communities.' You have to be that deliberate or else it won't happen.

"What we are talking about is crafting a whole new class of workers; maybe there'll be a green union, for all I know, around horticultural engineering."

Let the revolution begin.

Email: rjames@thestar.ca

As published at: http://www.thestar.com/GTA/Columnist/article/602295

AttachmentSize
Green wave must create jobs for poor March 14 2009.pdf23.16 KB