< Word Watch: Green Collar

Transcript

Friday, May 16, 2008

BOB GARFIELD:
This is On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. If you've been following this year's presidential campaign closely, you might have picked up on a new phrase that's worked its way into the candidates' speeches and into reporters' coverage, namely, "green collar jobs."
[CLIP]
HILLARY CLINTON:
People know about white collar jobs, they know about blue collar jobs, but the idea of green collar jobs is something that folks are just beginning to appreciate.
BARAK OBAMA:
The potential for creating green jobs that can not just save on our energy costs, but, more importantly, can create jobs in building windmills, that will produce manufacturing jobs here in Ohio --
JOHN McCAIN:
Green technologies, we can create thousands, millions of new jobs in America.
BOB GARFIELD:
What the candidates haven't gotten around to explaining yet is what exactly green collar jobs are. Is this another case of verbal greenwashing, freeloading on the feel-good vibes from the environmental movement, without doing the actual legwork?

I posed that question to Phil Angelides, the Chairman of the Apollo Alliance. His group is leading the charge for a clean energy revolution in America. Members of the Alliance have consulted for both the Clinton and Obama campaigns. Phil, welcome to the show.
PHIL ANGELIDES:
It's good to be with you.
BOB GARFIELD:
Okay now, “green collar job” is a term that I hadn't heard until pretty recently. I know what a white collar job is and what a blue collar job is, but – green?
PHIL ANGELIDES:
When we talk about green collar jobs, we're talking about jobs that provide wages and benefits that can support a family, jobs that give the opportunity to build and advance a career, and jobs that go to work to increase sustainability in this country, protect the environment and fight global warming.
BOB GARFIELD:
Do I understand that a green collar job is basically a blue collar job in the economy and the industries built around environmental sustainability?
PHIL ANGELIDES:
It also can include white collar jobs [LAUGHS] that are turning with a green tint. But a lot of this is about using our existing skills, building off our existing industries in this country to create a wave of jobs that improve the environment.

In this country, each year about three percent of our buildings are either newly constructed or substantially rehabilitated, which means by 2030, 75 percent of the buildings in this country are either going to be new buildings or substantially rehabilitated. That's about 325 billion square feet of buildings.

Now, buildings and energy consumption of buildings account for about 40 percent of the carbon emissions that we put out in the United States of America. If we embark upon an ambitious program to make existing buildings more energy-efficient and we adopt tough new standards for efficiency in new buildings, we can not only combat global warming, but we can create a wave of hundreds of thousands of jobs for skilled workers in this country, making our built environment more efficient.
BOB GARFIELD:
I want to get back to the term "green collar." Others are using it, as well, but not necessarily in the same way. Can you tell me, has the meaning of “green collar” mutated? Has the term been abused?

PHIL ANGELIDES:
This year, particularly in this presidential year, this has been the real debut of the word and the notion in the larger public consciousness. I mean, it says a lot about where we are in this country that certainly the two Democratic candidates for the White House, and to some extent the Republican candidate, are speaking about green collar jobs. It shows that there's an emerging consensus that this is an important path to be pursued for this country.

Obviously, I think what we have to guard against is greenwashing when it comes to the use of “green collar jobs,” where for promotional purposes people talk about the creation of green collar jobs that, you know, pay substandard wages, that really don't have the right kind of effect on the environment.

So I think we have to stay true to the movement as we develop public policy.
BOB GARFIELD:
Because some guy sorting cans from bottles and earning seven dollars an hour may be part of the green economy but is probably not that thrilled about it.
PHIL ANGELIDES:
Substandard wages is not our goal here. And I think that what we need to hold everyone's feet to the fire is when we're talking about green collar jobs is the twin notion of building real strength in the backbone of the American economy, which is jobs for middle class families, working families, and cleaning up the environment, because that's really going to be our ticket to success.
BOB GARFIELD:
Is this just another phase we're going through, where we are embracing green consciousness and when the price of oil goes down it'll all once again just be forgotten?

PHIL ANGELIDES:
I believe we've passed the tipping point. I think that people see the imminent threat of global warming and believe it. I think we see in consumer attitudes a new desire to have products and services that are more environmentally responsible.

The reality is, is that you're right, we've gotten previous wake-up calls and have not responded. I don't believe we have the option this time.
BOB GARFIELD:
All right, Phil, thank you very much.
PHIL ANGELIDES:
Great, thank you so very, very much.
BOB GARFIELD:
Phil Angelides is the Chairman of the Apollo Alliance.

So, green collar jobs are good and are the answer to what ails our economy. But the Apollo Alliance’s is only one definition of what green collar means. Russ Juskalian, a freelance reporter for The Columbia Journalism Review, has been following the evolution of the term. Russ, welcome to On the Media.
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
Thanks, glad to be here.
BOB GARFIELD:
We just got finished talking to Phil Angelides of the Apollo Alliance about green collar jobs. And he defined it, but is there a universally accepted definition of what constitutes green collar anything?
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
I don't think there is really agreement at all, on this. It's all over the place. Is the guy who works for the construction company who is putting out concrete and building foundations for big buildings who, you know, one job happens to be putting up a foundation for a windmill - now, is that person's job a green collar job?

In the campaigning in the Rust Belt, Hillary at one point said, you've heard white collar jobs and blue collar jobs - we're going to create green collar jobs. And what that means, in reality, [LAUGHS] is something that never really got answered.
BOB GARFIELD:
Is anyone doing the due diligence to figure out whether, for example, Barack Obama's promise of spending 150 billion dollars over ten years to create five million new green jobs -
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
Right.
BOB GARFIELD:
- you know, if that is actually a practical plan?
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
I haven't seen a lot of good analysis in the press whether that is going to work or it's not, and what it means, if it does work. Are those five million jobs over ten years, is that going to make any kind of sizeable difference in terms of lost manufacturing jobs or many other factors in there?

So no, I don't think that we've seen a really good analysis of that, which is what we'd like to see.
BOB GARFIELD:
You agree, though, that the term "green collar" can be a very useful way to convey the whole notion of an economy built around environmentally sustainable measures. Your quibble is not with the term per se, right?
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
No, but - but how it's used. And, at a certain point, it's a matter of somehow deciding are we talking about just blue collar jobs that now have an environmental twist to them, or are we talking also about, you know, lawyer jobs or accountant jobs that are also tied to the environmental movement?
And I think that's important just in terms of having a conversation so we can agree what we're talking about.
BOB GARFIELD:
Well, I can certainly [LAUGHING] foresee a case where some, I don't know, electric utility is burning the softest, most sulphurous coal [RUSS LAUGHS] and spewing all sort of crud into the environment, and actually putting green shirts on its employees -
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
[LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD:
- and saying, “Well, these are green collar jobs.”
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
And using phrases like "beyond petroleum" or something like that. Yeah, you can definitely see that. I mean, this is this classic greenwashing issue that we've heard about a lot in other areas, and now it's just one other aspect of it is this green collar work.
BOB GARFIELD:
The term "green collar" is out there, and, useful or not, in play and, useful or not, likely to be abused. What do you tell the press, either following the candidates or an environmental reporter? What advice do you give when they're about to type those words into a story?
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
Well, I think that the press has the same kind of pitfalls as everyone else when it comes to this green stuff or environment stuff. It sells. And it's fascinating, and we're all kind of primed to be paying attention to it. So if they can have a really amazing headline, people are going to pick up the magazine, the newspaper, whatever it is. And, yeah, at a certain point, there's a judgment that has to be made, or to say, lookit, we're not willing to say whether this is good or bad, but let's raise the question and raise it in a way that people take note.
BOB GARFIELD:
All right, Russ. Thank you.
RUSS JUSKALIAN:
Thanks a lot.
BOB GARFIELD:
Freelancer Russ Juskalian writes for The Columbia Journalism Review.