David Foster says the economic crisis is creating 21st-century green opportunities. Photo: John Maclennan
David Foster is the executive director of the Minnesota-based Blue Green Alliance, a partnership between the United Steelworkers, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Communications Workers of America. The following is excerpted from his address to Toronto's Good Jobs Summit, Saturday, November 22, at the Metro Convention Centre.
We are living in revolutionary times. Just as the transformation of our economy with electrification and mass production at the turn of the 20th century created the modern labour movement, so this new century and its clean energy and green chemistry technologies are going to give birth to a new set of social movements.
The carriage-makers and blacksmiths of the 19th century were replaced by the United Autoworkers of the 20th, and in just that fashion we can look for new work, new unions and a new social mission to emerge from the clean-energy economy of the 21st.
Environmental challenges are going to create our most important economic opportunities.
That's where the jobs of the next generation are going to come from. They will be green jobs and they will be good jobs, because we're going to unionize them and legislate to protect them. And we're going to rebuild the 21st-century global labour movement around the transformation of the clean-energy economy in the same way we built the 20th-century one around the fossil fuel economy.
To some people, that proposition flies in the face of a conventional and deeply held belief that job creation and environmental protection are in contradiction to each other. But environmental investments directly create jobs. Every baghouse, every precipitator, every heat recuperator, every piece of environmental or energy-efficient equipment needs an operator and a maintenance crew.
The three "Big E" challenges to our country, energy, the economy and the environment, can all be solved with one smart solution. With a $100 billion investment over the next two years, we can create 2 million new jobs. That's four times as many as would result from investing that same money in the oil companies' crash program to "Drill here, drill now, drill everywhere."
The investment will even generate 15 per cent more jobs than simply giving the same $100 billion back to consumers as a tax rebate. That's why solving our economic problems with environmental investments makes so much sense. That's why the green economy is also the smart economy.
There are six global warming solution strategies at the heart of an economic revitalization: wind and solar, of course; advanced biofuels, the next generation beyond corn-based ethanol; retrofitting our building stock for energy efficiency; expanding mass transit and freight rail systems; and finally investing in smart grid technology.
This concentration on retrofitting residential and commercial building stock would reverse the dramatic decline in construction employment in the U.S., where 800,000 construction jobs have been lost.
And of great importance to some of us, this [whole strategy] would increase demand for steel, because every infrastructure project from wind to mass transit to new transmission depends on steel.
It's time to make a strategic break and bet on the renewable energies of the future. I'd like to suggest we call it a Green Deal for the global economy. It's a deal that puts a price on pollution instead of passing it off to the next generation or the poorest among us. It's a deal that rewards work when it's done close to home to avoid the costs of global warming. It's a deal that measures the value of a chemical compound by its life-cycle effects instead of one season's profits. It's a deal that recognizes that our collective wisdom and wants are worth more than a free market.
David Foster on Obama U.S.
David Foster on the new labour movement