By Dr. Sekou Franklin

The emergence of a grass-roots movement pushing for green economic solutions to climate change and poverty has been a surprising development. This movement believes environmentally sustainable policies and the shift to a clean energy economy can lead to reduction of pollution and greenhouse gases. It also believes green-collar employment – family-supporting jobs in the clean and renewable energy sector – must be accessible to residents of economically distressed communities.

The Green-Collar Jobs Task Force of Nashville-Davidson County (a network of environmentalists, work-force development professionals, and social justice activists) was formed in 2008 to advocate for an inclusive green economy. In meetings with state and local officials, task force members have pushed for green work-force training programs modeled after similar initiatives in Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Oakland, CA; Providence, RI; Boston, MA; Portland, OR; and Newark, NJ. These programs share a common thread: As public-private partnerships, they provide work force development (vocational training, wraparound services, career coaching, environmental literacy) in the clean energy sector for underemployed workers and veterans, formerly incarcerated persons, transitional housing residents, low-income women, and workers with language barriers.

Sadly, no major city in the Southeast has a public, privately backed, green training program targeting the aforementioned populations, even though it is the most polluted and poorest region in the country.

Although Gov. Phil Bredesen’s Task Force on Energy Policy and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s Green Ribbon Committee want to position middle Tennessee as a regional leader in clean and renewable energies, they have yet to put political weight behind green jobs initiatives for communities suffering from chronic unemployment and underemployment.

Consider a green jobs program targeting hundreds of at-risk young adults from Nashville’s inner-city neighborhoods. Imagine if this program were extended to struggling workers in rural communities devastated by deindustrialization. Or consider the creation of green-based micro-enterprises for women in low-income communities shunned from manufacturing jobs and government contracts. These initiatives would offer an antidote to ecological decay, poverty and the hopelessness that contaminate these communities. Civil rights, women’s rights and youth groups also believe that green jobs initiatives can potentially reduce racial and gender inequities in the clean energy sector.

The NAACP, the Climate Equity Alliance, the Commission to Engage African-Americans on Climate Change, Wider Opportunities for Women, the National Urban League, and the Hip-Hop Caucus’s Green the Block initiative insist green jobs programs can remedy the structural violence (and twin evils) of poverty and pollution.

As indicated in a May 2009 study, "The Climate Gap," authored by the University of Southern California’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, green economic solutions also can reduce public health epidemics in low-income communities and communities of color.

Green jobs and environmentally sustainable practices will be the focus of the Compass VI Conference on Green Jobs sponsored by the Tennessee Alliance for Progress (www.taptn.org) Dec. 4-5 at Nashville’s Cohn Adult Learning Center. Organized in collaboration with the task force, the conference will bring together leading environmental and social activists from across the state and country. All are welcome to attend. See you there.
Franklin is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and coordinator of the Urban Studies Program at Middle Tennessee State University. He is also a founding member of the Green-Collar Jobs Task Force of Nashville-Davidson County.
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Tennessee Editorial Forum. 12/09


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