Opinion

Rebuild With Clean Energy to Jump-Start America’s Reckoning With Racial Inequity, Economic Opportunities

I’m big on data.

And lately, the data hasn’t been very good for people like me.

Black men and women are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people – whether on the streets of Minneapolis; along the backroads of Georgia, where I went to college; or at BART stations in Oakland, the city I call home.

COVID-19 is killing Black Americans at three times the rate of white people, just as communities of color suffer more from climate change, dirty air and dirty water.

People of color are also bearing a disproportionate brunt of the economic downturn. I see that in my industry – clean energy. Since COVID-19, more than 500,000 clean energy workers have filed for unemployment, including nearly 110,000 in California. One bit of data sticks out in the unemployment details: Hispanic/Latino workers represent about 14 percent of the clean energy workforce, but account for 25 percent of the job losses.

As our nation seeks to heal from the combined pain of racism, the pandemic, record unemployment and increasingly, climate change, our leaders in Washington and in Sacramento must recognize these problems are connected.

And like me, they must realize part of the solution is clean energy.

People of color can benefit from clean energy in numerous ways.

For starters, we often live in high-risk, environmentally contaminated communities and in housing that is less than efficient. Add high levels of un- or underemployment and you’ve got yourself a powder keg.

The rose in the concrete is the fact that our communities have never been in a better situation to be the solution to our own problems. We can take our place in the new clean energy economy and rebuild back better, more sustainably and more equitably.

But we must have leadership from our lawmakers.

At the state level, we can begin with a Green Bond Fund to expand financing for environmentally friendly infrastructure projects. The California Green Bond Market Development Committee, of which I’m a member, has developed ways to do this, but we need state lawmakers to help lead implementation, with on rebuilding our economy equitably.

Congress has the chance to make real change in all these areas when it begins discussing another round of economic stimulus to jump-start our ailing economy. Lawmakers need to focus on clean energy. A new report just out from E2 shows that with robust but reasonable federal investments of less than $100 billion in existing clean energy programs, we can create more than 860,000 badly needed clean energy jobs and drive $330 billion in economic activity – generating more than three times the return on investment. In California alone, that would include more nearly 68,000 jobs and $37 billion in economic activity, opening up new opportunities to people of color and all Californians.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy should be natural leaders for change and clean energy. As Californians, they should know better than most how clean energy can drive economic growth.

With congressional action, we can immediately get hundreds of thousands of energy efficiency workers – electricians, HVAC technicians, insulation installers, factory workers – on the job again and rebuilding our economy back better and faster.

We can jump-start hundreds of solar, wind and other clean energy projects, creating thousands of construction jobs and building a better, cleaner environment, including for communities of color that are struggling with dirty air and water and the calamities of climate change.

We can educate and retrain workers, including more people of color, for good-paying jobs as energy efficiency auditors and technicians and solar and wind installers – the fastest-growing occupations before COVID-19, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We know from history we can build back our economy better – and faster with clean energy. After the Great Recession, America invested $90 billion in clean energy programs.

What did we get? We broke ground on 100,000 renewable energy projects that quickly put construction workers back on the job. We weatherized 1 million homes, putting energy efficiency workers back to work. And we jump-started nearly 500 new clean energy-related companies, ranging from California-based Tesla to cutting-edge cleantech startups that brought down prices for solar and wind to where today they’re the cheapest energy sources available.

Lawmakers need to realize racial inequity, climate change and the opportunity to build a better, cleaner, more equitable economy are not mutually exclusive.

They need to realize the connections and take action.

Now.

 

Mark Hall is the founder of Revalue.io — a water and energy efficiency solutions service based in San Francisco — and a member of the national nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs).

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