Our American Cousins

I just came back from the Blue Green Alliance’s annual Good Jobs Green Jobs conference in Washington D.C.

I always enjoy this conference. It’s inspiring to hear about all the excellent green jobs initiatives underway across the U.S. And it was interesting to talk with folks about our experiences of campaigning for green jobs here in Canada.

Canadians may not know it, but when it comes to climate change and environmental issues, Americans aren’t entirely sure what to make of us.

On the one hand, the oil sands loom large, thanks in part to the continuing controversy surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition, Canada is increasingly known as a bad actor on the international stage as a result of, among other things, our performance at climate change meetings where we’re routinely rewarded the dubious distinction of being the “fossil of the year.”

But, on the other hand, Americans are aware of and impressed by some of climate initiatives we have undertaken – namely British Columbia’s carbon tax, and Ontario’s Green Energy Act. Sometimes, it’s good to get some perspective. And in this case, my trip to the U.S. reminded me that, in at least some ways, Canada is leading the way to a greener economy.

Of course, there is a lot of great work happening in the U.S. too. And some pretty inspiring collaborations between labour and environmentalists. The two movements have come to the conclusion that they need to work together in order to achieve their shared objective of building an economy that works for everyone, now and in the future.

Among other things, labour reps made the case that runaway climate change is likely the greatest threat to jobs in the long run. And environmentalists admitted that they needed to be more attentive to the impacts of their campaigns on workers and communities.

It’s not fair for the costs of greening the economy to be borne disproportionately by some communities and workers, for example those where fossil fuels have long provided a livelihood. Figuring out a transition strategy for these communities is critical to solving our challenge in an equitable manner, it’s critical to getting these communities on board, and to breaking down the false jobs vs. the environment dichotomy for good.

Furthermore, a number of speakers acknowledged the simple truth that when people are worried about jobs, worried about their ability to put food on the table, or to send their kids to school, they have less time to worry about the environment. Fixing the economy, then, is instrumental to solving the climate crisis.

And, with this in mind, the really good news is that the solution to the environmental crisis is also a solution to the jobs crisis. And this reality is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.

Investments in clean energy create far more jobs compared with similar investments in fossil fuels. The U.S. wind industry has created more jobs in the U.S. than the ipod, and the solar sector has been adding jobs at a rate ten times the national average.

And it’s not just renewables. Investments in energy efficiency cut emissions, boost the economy and create jobs. Investments in low carbon transit would do the same.

In short, a climate plan is also a jobs plan.

And that’s really good news. As Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers said, we can’t choose between good jobs and a clean environment. We’ll either have both, or we’ll have neither.

Thankfully, we can choose to have both. There’s still time. And labour and environmentalists are working together to help ensure we understand our choice, and choose wisely.