Green Jobs and a new environmentalism

With Democrats voting today in Pennsylvania, we are coming to the close of a six week period in which Senators Obama and Clinton have been talking non-stop about the loss of manufacturing jobs. During that time, they have, to one degree or another, been touting one of the most highly anticipated benefits of dealing with climate change – aside from saving the planet, of course – the entire sector of new “green collar” jobs that will come with it.

Skilled labor will be required to create the solar panels, wind turbines, hybrid engines, energy efficient buildings, and other, as of yet undreamt of clean technologies. Presumably, the argument goes, Pennsylvania’s un- or under- employed workers will benefit from these new jobs. The buy-in to this concept from organized labor has been strong. (The Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, has been pushing this side of the argument. They hosted the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference” in Pittsburgh last month.)

The consensus on green collar jobs – at least on the Democratic side – is broad. New ads from the Alliance for Climate Protection showcase the bipartisan support for creating a solution to climate change. Politicians, of course, love green collar jobs. What better way to go into an economically depressed community than with the promise of a new generation of good-paying jobs?

The green collar jobs argument illustrates just how far the environmental movement has come since its first round of huge legislative successes and awareness campaigns of over a generation ago. The new attentiveness to climate has allowed the environmental community to partner with government, labor, multinational corporations, and religious and community groups to launch a powerful arsenal of multi-disciplinary arguments that environmentalists have been formulating for decades about why and how to stop climate change. These arguments go far beyond what many, until recently, saw as the traditional purview of environmentalism.

This new, broadened approach to environment is working in the fight to advance a solution to climate change – in part because the challenge is so large that it will have far reaching affects on everything from the economy to national security, and in part because the environmental movement now has the ability to make arguments that reach into the polling places of Pennsylvania. This Earth Day, it seems that the climate debate, which has been called “Environment 2.0,” goes hand in hand with environmentalism 2.0, a movement so powerful it can produce a blockbuster documentary, win a Nobel Peace Prize, and – hopefully – create a broad political consensus to save the planet while creating good, new jobs.