It’s become a mantra. The United States needs to create jobs. We need to create jobs for our young people, jobs for our fighting men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, jobs for those who have given up finding jobs.
What if we could come up with a strategy that would create jobs across the nation for young men and women from impoverished families, for veterans and for the chronically unemployed? A strategy that would put people to work fast and directly — not just provide a tax-break for corporations? A strategy that would, miracle of miracles, also have a strong impact on the environment?
There is an approach that fills the bill: an Energy Corps, which would train men and women to perform low-cost energy-efficiency measures and pay them to carry out these measures at schools, affordable housing, hospitals, libraries, and parks across the country.
Like the popular and eminently successful Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s, an Energy Corps (EC) would provide work for thousands of men and women. And like the CCC, which put civilians to work conserving the country’s natural resources, the EC would protect the environment by making buildings energy efficient. Energy efficient buildings equal reduced greenhouse gases equal survival for us all.
Not possible, you say? It has already happened successfully, in microcosm, in New York City. Since 2009, Community Environmental Center (CEC), a Queens nonprofit, has teamed closely with workforce development programs, training urban youth who have high school diplomas or the equivalent and paying them $250 each week to perform basic energy-related jobs.
The results have been remarkable. Through the Mayor’s CoolRoofs NYC program, young men and women in a career-training program at Green City Force, a Brooklyn nonprofit, helped coat more than 1 million square feet of city rooftop with reflective paint, lessening what’s called the “Heat Island Effect ” – making buildings cooler and less dependent on energy-using air conditioning.
Through ARRA funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), Green City Force men and women were paid to perform household health and safety tests and diagnostic, energy-consumption tests at 8,000 affordable-housing apartments.
The EmPower New York program of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) trained and paid young men and women to test lighting and appliances for energy efficiency, perform complete energy efficiency retrofits and teach environmental education to 638 low-income families.
Before your eyes glaze over from buzzwords, consider these young people’s honest expressions of positive personal experience. Nineteen-year-old Green City Force member Bill Spencer, from Brooklyn, has written that “Over the course of six months in the program, I’ve seen a change in myself that I never thought was possible. The skills and the knowledge that I’ve gained are a great experience for what’s out there in the world. But most of all, I have learned how to live selflessly and live more greenly.”
Nineteen-year-old Soraya Scales, also from Brooklyn, wrote that “Green City Force has helped me not only in skills that are essential for the workforce, but with skills that are essential for everyday life.”
Could this kind of program work on a larger scale? Absolutely. Contracted by state agencies, nonprofit energy efficiency organizations across the country would train EC members for one month and, with the logistical and financial support of local owners of eligible buildings, identify energy efficiency projects lasting between 6 and 12 months. After one month of training, EC members would begin to perform lighting and appliance audits, weather stripping and other energy efficiency measures. They would do door-to-door outreach for energy-efficiency projects in their communities. Along the way, EC members would acquire Building Performance Institute (BPI) certification, so that they could be marketable when their EC tour of duty ends.
There are about 23 million young people ages 16 to 24 in the U.S., and more than half are unemployed. There are about 200,000 unemployed veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Community Environmental Center estimates that $10,000 would cover the cost of engaging, training, supervising, insuring, and paying one Energy Corps member for 6 months.
Five hundred million dollars could put 50,000 people to work.
It doesn’t solve our unemployment problem, but it’s a start.