Environmentalists and union leaders on October 18 gathered at the United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburg for a roundtable discussion on how the two movements can work together to reverse global warming and create good paying jobs in a green economy.
“In our union, we have seen firsthand that we can have both good jobs and work towards a clean, green environment,” said Leo Gerard, USW international president. “But we also have seen the pain that comes when these jobs get shipped overseas. A bright future for young people is one where we have a sustainable environment and a healthy economy that is built around domestic manufacturing that helps us achieve our clean energy goals.”
On Friday evening, Gerard addressed the conference. “Global warming is here, and we can work and get it fixed together,” said Gerard as reported by the Associated Press.
The key, according to Gerard and other USW leaders is to build a strong alliance that demands more public and private investment in green energy and technology and keeping the jobs created by those investments here in the US.
Keeping these new green jobs in the US will create new job opportunities for workers displaced by the transition from old, dirty energy to new, green energy.
“America’s workers are a key stakeholder in the clean economy,” said Tom Conway, USW International vice president. “If we double-down on investments in home-grown clean energy technologies like wind and solar, we’ll see the benefits multiply in domestic manufacturing and the construction and installation of these projects.”
A new report by the International Energy Agency shows that wind power, one of the more promising green energy sources, could play an increasingly important role in supplying the world’s energy needs, but doing so will require significant new investments.
According to the report, wind power could supply as much as 18 percent of the world’s energy needs by 2050. It currently provides 2.6 percent. But to achieve this increase, it will take $150 billion per year in new investments.
The report said that improved technology has made wind turbines more efficient, which makes it possible to install them in places other than windy locations such as seasides or mountain ridges.
One way that the US government could encourage more investment in wind energy is by reauthorizing the Production Tax Credit (PTC), which increases the demand for wind turbines. PTC is set to expire at the end of 2013.
“To compete, we need certainty. We need sustainability,” said Brad Molinick, a member of USW Local 2635 at the Gamesa wind turbine plant in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. “We need to put in place a longer extension to the tax credits. This is the manufacturing of the future. There’s this opportunity, and we could really take off and bring manufacturing back to America, but we need certainty.”
Another investment that could improve the environment and create green jobs is for manufacturers to invest in lowering their energy consumption.
A new report by the BlueGreen Alliance finds that doing so will make companies more competitive by saving them money and at the same time create more green jobs.
The report estimates that a 21 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2020 will save manufacturers $47 billion a year.
According to the report, investments in energy consumption (add) value to . . . companies, (free) up capital that would otherwise be spent on energy inputs, (preserve) existing jobs, and (create) new jobs in the construction and retrofitting of (existing) facilities.”
Conway said that unless the US acts boldly to develop its green industries it could be left behind, and if creating good paying jobs in the green industries is not part of the agenda its hard to see how we can achieve environmental justice.
“If we commit to alternative energy without investing in jobs, it doesn’t do us any good,” said Conway. “We need to be the ones building the supply chain.”