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Op-Ed | The time is now for green jobs

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While New York City recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges ahead are as numerous as they are daunting. Though wounded, the collective spirit of New Yorkers remains strong, open for bold new ideas in rebuilding the greatest city on earth.

The pandemic exposed—and heightened—the problems of economic inequality that have long plagued this city.  COVID overturned our neighborhoods, destroyed jobs, damaged futures, and left us with millions unemployed while we grappled with the consequences of this unprecedented health and economic crisis.

This experience has shown us that it was past time we seriously address the policy direction this city must take in this new post-COVID age. We have no choice but to stop reacting, and instead move forward with initiatives that will truly “build back better.”

It is time to reimagine the city in the face of the crisis of climate change, the effects of which—particularly in communities of color—we no longer can ignore.

As with the pandemic, we have seen firsthand what happens when we’re not prepared for the looming climate crisis. We did not learn enough from the lessons of Superstorm Sandy, as needed projects, such as sustainable construction and green retrofitting of buildings, lagged due to budget constraints and bureaucracy.

With a new President in the White House, and Democratic majorities both in Washington and in Albany, now is the opportunity to take on the challenge in transforming New York City into a sustainable metropolis. As we work to create this new future, we look to innovative solutions to help move us beyond the economic crisis and remake a safe, sustainable city that will set the standard in leading the country in an economic recovery.

The city can become such a leader by implementing innovative changes to its infrastructure to create a clean, green energy economy at the scale that climate science demands, and thus be able to support more equitable communities. 

Our plan includes:

  • Retrofit and install solar panels on public buildings, including in our schools.
  • Conduct moderate green retrofits to the city’s affordable and public housing buildings and in small, low-income residential buildings. 
  • Maximize usage by electrifying ports in our city’s industrial zones and waterfronts.
  • Invest in climate projects that address the challenges of coastal flooding, excess storm water, extreme heat, and a long-term plan of an equitable development of clean energy.
  • Implement Commercial Waste Zones and expand the city’s organics recycling program.
  • Develop off shore wind as an essential element in transitioning New York City to a clean energy economy.
  • Invest in education, creating pipelines of knowledge and expertise that help connect New Yorkers to the climate industry.

With this plan, New York City has the potential to become a leader in the green industrial manufacturing industry. By funding the projects listed above – and in doing so creating 100,000 good, green jobs over three years – we can create the clean, green energy economy at the scale climate science demands, while supporting more equitable communities and a resilient city.

But our city must step up because our recovery will be expensive. We need to get this right, and we do not have a lot of time.

The city must provide the necessary funding to make us more resilient and sustainable and they must do so by creating a pathway to civil service for people. It is imperative to end the practice of contracting out these jobs to private consultants. Hundreds of millions of dollars are currently spent by the city on hiring outside consultants to do work that City employees could do far less expensively.

Instead, New York City should rely on a highly trained workforce of public employees with deep knowledge of the tasks at hand. District Council 37, a leading force for years in the push for a green economy, announced a new training initiative to prepare workers for green jobs to address the impact of climate change.

Through its Education Fund, the DC 37 Green Jobs Training Initiative launches next month. The program will provide technical training, environmental literacy, and hands-on experience to train a portion of its 150,000 members and the general public. 

By building on the union’s existing education and workforce training programs, this new program will provide city employees with the experience to be the next generation of green workers. The union’s goal is to provide essential, sustainable training to workers equipped to help build the infrastructure to handle the future demands of a green economy.

By focusing on creating union jobs in low-income communities of color, these new jobs would bring people back to work, empowering the neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic. 

There isn’t much time. Scientists tell us we have fewer than 10 years to prevent the irreversible damage of climate change. Hurricanes destroyed New York’s coastal communities and rising heat and asthma indexes are threatening the lives of more vulnerable New Yorkers each year.

We cannot miss this opportunity. The time is now.

NYC City Council Member Justin Brannan represents District 43 in Brooklyn. Henry Garrido is the Executive Director of District Council 37.

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