If green is the new black, eco-populism is the new environmentalism
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If the flow of venture capital is any indication, the new green economy is not just coming, it's about to boom. There's good reason to be excited about capitalists pouring money into saving the planet. But is it really the panacea that true believers say it is?
The idea behind "social uplift environmentalism" is that the new green economy is strong enough to lift people out of poverty. The argument: millions of "green-collar jobs" defined as living-wage, career-track jobs that contribute directly to improving or enhancing environmental quality will be created as the need for green energy, transportation, and manufacturing infrastructure grows.
If green is the new black, eco-populism is the new environmentalism.
But the pesky realists out there question whether the private sector will work quickly or efficiently enough to solve crises as massive as global warming. And many Bay Area activists say they have good reason to be wary of green solutions to problems like inner-city poverty.
In early April, the San Franciscobased Center for Political Education (CPE) brought in prominent environmental and social justice activists to discuss some of these issues. One of the primary concerns about turning blue collars green has to do with doubts about job training programs, which don't have a great track record.
"People are getting trained for nothing for an old economy, for jobs that don't exist," activist Oscar Grande of People Organizing for Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER) told the Guardian.
At the gathering Ian Kim, director of the Green Collar Jobs program at Oakland's Ella Baker Center, agreed that there have been major problems in job training programs but said that this shouldn't doom future programs to failure. "Workforce development has been on a starvation diet for the last 10 to 15 years," he said at the CPE event. "It's easy to do job training really badly. But when done well, it can work."
In a conversation with the Guardian, Jennifer Lin, research director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, cited Solar Richmond as an example of a small but successful green-jobs program. Lin also acknowledged that it took a while for the first 18 trainees to find employment in solar panel installation.
Another hot topic at the CPE event concerned land use a scorching topic in our housing-strapped city. Grande said one of the struggles PODER has taken on in the Mission District is preserving industrial lands, the breadbasket for low-income communities. San Francisco's industrial base has eroded due to factors such as offshoring jobs and dotcom-era condo developments in areas formerly zoned for industry, he said.
One of the biggest questions raised at the CPE event concerned the limits of green capitalism: can an environmental solution be successful if it doesn't challenge the constant-growth philosophy that created the problem?
"There is a lot of feel-good energy being put in by politicians about this really good [green jobs] program. But they're not addressing how incredibly enormous the challenges are and the kinds of shifts like getting all of us out of cars, providing local foods that don't have to be shipped from thousands of miles away that need to happen," the CPE's Fernando Martí told the Guardian.
Kim says that while the climate crisis allows us to critique capitalism in a way that has not been possible for decades, he acknowledges that the work the Ella Baker Center is doing is within a constant-growth framework.
"While it's important in the radical left to have conversations about capitalism and powering down, that's not where we're starting out with green jobs," Kim told the CPE audience.
Mateo Nube, training director for the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, suggested that both short- and long-term goals are important. "We need to build an infrastructure for the transition. We need to rebuild our food production systems in a way that actually takes care of everybody and is sustainable. From that vantage point, the idea of green jobs and a New Deal makes a lot of sense. But in that process, we have to incorporate an understanding that a constant-growth model is suicide."