By H. Fields Grenee
For several years now we’ve been hearing the term “green technology” volleyed about. As preached from the political pulpit, “green” means new jobs, improved health, cost savings and a clean environment. Eager to harness these benefits, leaders in government, the private sector and countless everyday citizens, have made the decision to go green.
In February 2009, Congress took one of its most strident steps toward a sustainable future by passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It allocated $90 billion for investments in clean energy technologies and job training.
According to The Climate Gap, a 2009 study conducted by the University of California, communities of color have a lot to gain from such investments. A holistic embrace of green living by these groups, disproportionally affected by climate change, is perceived as the best way to end the cycle of poverty.
If this is so, what steps should communities of color, historically left out of the decision making process, take to be included in and benefit from the green technology revolution? For many advocates the approach must include education and livable wage job training, organizing and building sustainable community-based movements and lobbying and securing funding for reinvestment in urban areas.
The Washington Park Consortium (WPC), a Chicago-based community action group interested in urban quality-of-life issues, is one of the lead minority organizations working to craft useful solutions. Brandon Johnson, WPC’s CEO, thinks that the jobs needed to build the infrastructure of the green technology revolution, hold significant promise for the African-American community. He sees it as the greatest opportunity in nearly 40 to 50 years for blacks to sculpt their future and define the role they will play in it.
Johnson’s belief stems from the idea that shared stewardship of the land will affect the choices community members make. This is why urban gardening and reinvestment in urban initiatives is vital.
“Many African-Americans are now being forced off of the welfare roles, which bred dependency,” he said. “Going green, as they may call it, is therefore not necessarily a lifestyle choice, but rather survival. Communities of color must adapt and reorganize our ways of living, while better using and sustaining what we already have.”
WPC strives for this by organizing and educating local stakeholders in topics like money management, funding for green spaces, and urban gardening. “Some African-Americans in green like to say it’s not new choices but reconnecting with old ways [like community farming and buying locally]”, Johnson noted. “Urban areas have a higher concentration of vacant lots than suburbia, yet the vast majority of funding for green rehabbing projects and gardening initiatives don’t come to our communities and we are suffering because of it.”
From a health standpoint, many communities of color, based on national statistics, are situated in areas designated as food deserts. These are areas having little or no access to foods needed to maintain a healthy diet, yet are often saturated with fast food restaurants and convenience stores.
“It’s hard to stop and think where your food is coming from and if it was grown responsibly, when you are living paycheck to paycheck,” Johnson said.
Trying to increase those paychecks is the business of Green For All (GFA). “As a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty, Green For All is focused on advocating for and creating green-collar jobs that move low-income workers into higher-paid and higher-skilled occupations,” said Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, GFA’s CEO.
“When I say green-collar jobs, I mean well-paid, career track jobs that contribute directly to preserving or enhancing environmental quality,” she said. “If a job improves the environment but doesn’t provide a family-supporting wage or opportunities for advancement along a career track of increasing skills and wages, it is not a green-collar job.”