All green work expands the economy by reducing waste of resources, workers and wealth. Green jobs make life easier for everyone by reducing the costs of fuel, food, and housing. Green work repairs soil, water and air, making these cleaner and healthier.
Looking deeper, green jobs can also build profound solutions to resource depletion and social inequity, by expanding use of many existing and new technologies: passive solar HVAC, trains, bicycles, superwindows, deconstruction and depaving, rainwater catchment and solar distillation, earth shelters, cellulose insulation, tree-free paper, compost toilets and greywater systems, urban farms and orchards, edible landscaping, greenhousing, solar windowboxes and solar water heaters, green roofs and white roofs. These humble tools prove that billions of humans can enjoy this planet while repairing it.
Most American cities are chained to crumbling and costly centralized grids — sewers, freeways, power plants. Deep green technologies can gradually supplant these grey, outdated systems. Reliance on fossil fuel can be reduced toward zero, shrinking taxes by avoiding repair fees.
Liz Robinson, whose Energy Coordinating Agency trains people to insulate and weatherize, says, "You’re going to be shocked how big these efforts are. The tipping point in Philadelphia is very exciting to see. Efficiencies are the cleanest, safest, most labor-intensive, and cheapest sources of energy."
Yet the deepest green jobs do even more than sharply cut fossil fuel dependence, and provide more than a paycheck. They serve the broader social mission to shift economic power toward lower-income neighborhoods. They replace the Poverty Industry (charity, police, courts, jails) with worker-owned neighborhood light industries. They enable low-skilled neighbors to employ one another to create work that lowers their living expenses.
Exemplary of such grassroots enterprise are Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation and the City of Cleveland. They grow fresh hydroponic vegetables, perform brownfield remediation, photovoltaic installation, weatherization, and operate a water-conserving nontoxic laundry.
In Philadelphia, Project RISE facilitates green business starts among ex-offenders and at-risk youth. Says director Bernadine Hawes, "The vision should be based on what the population being served sees, and not just on the standards and traditions of the professional business development community."
John Churchville, green jobs planner for the American Cities Foundation, agrees. "The mind switch from seeking a job to creating a green business has the potential to single-handedly bring our entire nation back from the brink of economic ruin. Building a green economy that has the capacity to employ the majority of America’s unemployed and underemployed residents will be critical for our future thriving as a city."
This is a big job, since our country hosts tens of millions of unemployed, plus the world’s highest urban incarceration rate.
Yet Americans are wealthy in this poverty, because deep green jobs that fix the above rise from vacant lots and vacant lives, from Americans hungry for dinner and hungry for respect. Our empty lots invite planting, and our abandoned houses need labor-intensive retrofit or deconstruction. There are tons of vagrant bricks and tires, discarded pallets and newspapers that are feedstock for simple energy-efficient neighborhood industry.
Addressing America’s loss of millions factory jobs during the previous 40 years, Leanne Krueger-Braneky, Director of the Sustainable Business Network says, "the time is right for a fresh, invigorating and equitable conversation about local sustainable manufacturing…"
Philadelphia’s Director of Sustainability, Katherine Gajewski, reports that "most clean economy jobs will require literacy in math, science and computer literacy. The best way to make sure that ex-offenders and unemployed residents can get access to those jobs is for them to upgrade those foundational skills."
These important skills particularly serve the higher-tech corporate green jobs that might some day hire a few hundred thousands jobless. However, as Green For All founder Van Jones says, "There should be a moral principle there that says, let’s green the ghetto first. Let’s go to those communities where they have the least ability to pay for that retrofit and make sure they get that help, make sure they get that support. And give the young people standing on those corners the opportunity to put down those handguns and pick up some caulking guns and be a part of the solution."
By his standard, the most urgent task is not to employ a few hundred people in solar/wind factories, paying them so well they can become grander consumers, but to create useful work for all idle Philadelphians, so they’re warm and fed and respected without resorting to crime.
How do we pay for their green labor? Since investment in deep green enterprise will be less immediately profitable, bolder financial institutions are needed to expand neighborhood authority over money, trade, investment, interest rates and land use. Paths are clearing through which the rich profit by empowering, rather than dominating, the poor.
For example, the Lancaster Stock Exchange (LanX) gathers capital for regional ecodevelopment. Similar plans are drawn for the Philadelphia Regional & Independent Stock Exchange (PRAISE).
– Permaculture Credit Union of Santa Fe, NM, makes loans for solar heating, PV systems, weatherization, rainwater collection, resource conservation, organic farming and gardening.
– Portland, Oregon, sponsors "Financial Tools for Neighborhood Businesses."
– Philadelphia’s Community Land Trust Corporation facilitates "equitable development," to strengthen rather than displace long-time residents.
– Lower wages paid by modest start-ups can be supplemented by mutual aid systems, whose members pool small amounts of money to reduce expenses for housing, childcare, medicine, electricity and meals.
Of course, there’s more to capital than dollars, euros, pesos or yen. Green jobs can be capitalized by regional credit systems that redirect dollar equivalents toward greening. Great Barrington’s Berkshares foster connections that spark new businesses. Ithaca (NY) HOURS assert that labor is the new gold standard — millions have been traded since 1991. HOUR microloans are made interest-free. Who backs such money? We are the bank, we are the treasury, and we are the treasure.
The deepest green jobs aim to entirely rebuild American cities toward balance with nature. This is the explicit intent of "Deep Green Cities: Fulfilling the Green Jobs Promise," a new book by the California Construction Academy. Ecocity Builders envisions "the global rebuilding of cities and towns based on ecological principles." The group Carfree Cities declares "We can convert existing cities to the carfree model over a period of decades. Venice, Italy, is an oasis of peace despite being one of the densest urban areas on earth." Deepest imaginable green is "Los Angeles: A History of the Future," which portrays America’s car capitol thriving without cars or streets, where millions reside in passive solar earth-sheltered "ecolonies" amid massive orchards linked with bikepaths and rail.
Take your pick. On every scale, there’s plenty of green work to be done.
Paul Glover is editor of Green Jobs Philly News, founder of Ithaca HOURS local currency, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, Citizen Planners of Los Angeles and a dozen other grassroots organizations. He consults as Greenplanners.