Earth Day 2013: More than 3 Million Americans Work 'Green' Jobs
CHICAGO - As Illinoisans celebrate Earth Day today, environmentalists look back at the progress that they've made. Over the years, since that first Earth Day in 1970, some people have tried to paint environmentalists as "radicals" who didn't really understand the economy. But according to Howard Learner, who founded the Environmental Law and Policy Center 20 years ago this month, there is nothing "radical" about it. Curbing pollution creates jobs, he declared.
"If you had said to people 20 years ago, 'Here's how much wind power will be up and running in the Midwest. There'll be about ten thousand megawatts of power. Iowa will be number two in the country, Illinois number five, Minnesota number six.' Those people would have looked at you and said, 'Well, that's a little out there,'" Learner stated.
Today, some call clean energy investments "job killers." But Learner says that's not true. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 3 million people hold "green" jobs. A half a million are in manufacturing, 370,000 in construction, and nearly 350,000 in professional, scientific and technical services.
Learner said that, with more than 70 percent of pollution coming from the energy and transportation sectors, political squabbling solves nothing.
"There are no Democratic forests and there's no Republican rivers, and when we see the extreme weather events happening, I think the public is smart, and the public is telling our policy makers it's time to get serious about solutions," he said.
Learner said it gives him reason to be optimistic to see Illinois Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder cooperating on high speed rail development.
Learner remarked that ever since he founded the ELPC he has considered himself something of a myth buster. The biggest myth, he said, is that you can't have economic growth and a better environment. He points to Peters Heating and Air Conditioning, a company that specializes in geothermal technology. It started more than 30 years ago in Quincy, and now has three more locations in Illinois and three in Missouri, and brings in around $10 million in revenue.
"We can do smart solutions with technological innovation, better solutions in terms of energy, better transportation solutions that make our communities work, that reduce pollution and improve our economy," he said.
He said we are already well on our way. An ELPC report says that more than 300 businesses in Illinois provide 18,000 jobs in the wind, solar and geothermal energy field right now.
Earth Day has grown over the years. Today it involves well over 150 countries and 5,000 environmental groups.
More information is at goo.gl/aHVME and at EarthDay.org.