March 16, 2007

The Glass is Half Full

By Javier Sierra

You may have observed that the weather has been very peculiar lately.

In January, the palm trees in sunny Tucson, Arizona, were covered by a white layer that was not desert dust but actually flakes from a freak snowstorm. And on Malibu Beach, in Los Angeles, children did not play with sand but with the snow that covered this typical paradise of warm weather.

Meanwhile, the country’s northeast region has had one of the warmest early winters in memory, including New York City, where no snow fell during the entire month of December for the first time since 1877.

In fact, according to the federal government, this January, throughout the world, was the warmest since reliable record-keeping began.

No weather event, however, can be attributed to just one cause, such as global warming. But the world’s most renowned experts have been warning us for decades that the progressive warming of the atmosphere due to human activity would cause profound changes in the planet’s climate.

But my intention is not to scare you but rather to give you reasons to be optimistic, reasons that can be found all around us. In other words, the glass, indeed, is half full.

While the federal government lacks an energy policy that ends our oil dependence, states and cities throughout the country are adopting their own initiatives to curb global warming emissions.

Many fear, however, that ending our oil dependence and opting for clean, renewable sources of energy -such as solar, wind and geothermal- will eliminate millions of jobs. The facts disagree.

Our oil dependence has increased by 12 percent since 2001, and we have lost 2.7 million jobs in the same period. About 75 percent of the jobs were high-paying, high-productivity jobs in the manufacturing sector, one of the largest employers of Latinos.

Our clean, secure energy economy would have the completely opposite effect. These initiatives have the potential to revitalize the economy and generate millions of new jobs, whose names, in many instances, don’t even exist today. And to top it all off, they would make us all safer because they could eliminate the need to import oil from the Persian Gulf.

“We can build a strong economy and create new jobs while respecting the environment and exploring smart energy solutions,” says Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club is a member of the Blue Green Alliance, a nationwide group of more than 3 million workers and environmentalists that focuses on global warming, clean energy, fair trade, and reducing toxics.

The labor and environmental organizations believe that good jobs will come from investment in energy efficiency and green technologies. As Leo W. Girard, International President of the United Steelworkers, has said, “Good jobs and a clean environment are important to American workers—we cannot have one without the other.”

Examples of this synergy abound. One Los Angeles-based community organization, SCOPE, plans to invest $100 million in retrofitting 100 of the buildings in worst shape in the city, especially those located in the poorest neighborhoods. This green project will create 2,000 new jobs, especially for minority workers, like Latinos and African-Americans, according to Campaign Coordinator Elsa Barboza.

A Spanish company plans to invest $34 million and create 530 well-paying jobs in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, a town economically devastated by the closing of a steel mill.

According to a recent Ameri-can Solar Energy Society report, by 2050, in the U.S. we could reduce our global warming emissions by 80 percent by just intensifying our energy efficiency and substituting dirty sources of energy with others that are clean and renewable, such as solar and wind.

This kind of reduction of pollutants is what we need in order to counter global warm-ing’s catastrophic effects and to leave our children and grandchildren a livable planet.

And the best reason to repeat that the glass is half full.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. For more information, please visit

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