Where have all the green jobs gone?

Stimulus money for green jobs absent, says California’s Green Party

Preventing new Wal-Mart stores from being built is just one of the California Green Party’s environmental-justice campaigns.

Preventing new Wal-Mart stores from being built is just one of the California Green Party’s environmental-justice campaigns.

Photo By cres vellucci

When Cres Vellucci drives through Merced in the Central Valley, he usually doesn’t make a pit stop.

“When I can see how bad the air is, I don’t want to stop, because I don’t want to breathe it in,” said Vellucci, press secretary for the California Green Party.

A few weeks ago, he did stop, but for a reason: to participate in a protest against Wal-Mart’s planned construction of a 1.2 million-square-foot distribution center along Highway 99. A thousand diesel trucks would stop there daily. Three schools are located in the vicinity, with one only 600 feet away, Vellucci said, and 22 percent of the kids in the city already suffer from asthma, possibly caused by toxic pollutants in the air. The center will create even more nitrogen oxide and particulate matter (dust and soot) in the area.

This is just one environmental-justice campaign the state Green Party is working on. The party has been slowly growing and now counts at least 38 elected local officials statewide. But the Greens are finding, along with other frustrated environmental groups, that the economic crisis has forced the climate crisis to the back burner.

“Wal-Mart’s battle cry is ‘more jobs,’” Vellucci said. “But at what cost? The talk is jobs. Well, where are the green jobs?”

As the national unemployment rate climbs closer to 9 percent, and local governments are basically willing to accept any and all jobs available, Greens struggle to convince politicians and ordinary citizens that ecological concerns still matter, especially as Wal-Mart claims it will hire more than 1,000 workers for the distribution site.

President Barack Obama’s administration promised to prioritize green-job creation, but Greens say they’ve yet to see any real evidence supporting this commitment. In late May, Vice President Joe Biden announced the launch of a program to train workers to make public housing more energy efficient.

While Greens wholeheartedly support the use of economic-stimulus money to help address the climate crisis, they argue that the implementation plans for doing so are not of a massive enough scale.

“As it stands, it will achieve something, but not enough,” said Wes Rolley, a Green member who blogs about ecological issues. He pointed out that during the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration created more jobs in a four-month period than President Obama has promised to create or save by 2011.

Meanwhile, big businesses such as Wal-Mart get away with what Greens call ecological devastation under the guise of job creation.

“They say some of the trucks will have special engines and they’ll use [compact fluorescent light bulbs] in their facility,” Vellucci said. “Yeah, give me a break. We talk about the ‘green’ aspect of this and of that. Every corporation from Wal-Mart down uses the term, and we know that to be ‘greenwashing.’”

The choice doesn’t have to between the economy and the environment, Green members argue.

For instance, the Green Party and other environmental groups want auto-industry bailout money spent on completely revamping and redirecting automobile plants. Michael Moore suggested General Motors retool to build mass transit and alternative-energy vehicles. That would employ workers to build light-rail systems in every city, as well as clean buses for rural areas. Factories can be transformed to build windmills, solar panels and batteries for electric cars.

“I hate to sound impatient, but the [climate crisis] problem is out there today,” Vellucci said. “The government can do things more quickly if it wants to.”

When it comes to environmental campaigns, the Greens have plenty to keep them busy until the government steps it up.

The Green Party recently launched the Pacific Coast Ocean Sanctuary Petition to protect coastal areas off California, Oregon and Washington, which are threatened by the U.S. Navy’s plan to use the north coast as an area for expanded oil exploration, military exercises and sonar testing. (Last fall, Congress allowed the 27-year-old moratorium on new offshore oil drilling to expire.)

The party also continues to protest the Wal-Mart distribution center, while promoting green jobs instead. Now is the chance to think and work outside the current economic and political system, says the Green Party.

“Everything is falling apart,” Vellucci said. “This is the perfect time to build anew.”