A green economy and what it means for us

By William P. Muhammad

It goes without saying that education is the basis for advancement in American society, and for Black Americans this is doubly true. With the election of Barack Obama for president, the development and implementation of a “green economy” is being taken seriously at last. As the so-called “green revolution” takes root in American politics, the environmental and energy policy changes so many have advocated may finally become an opportunity yielding tangible rewards.

With the appointment of Berkeley physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary, for the first time in American politics renewable energy, increased efficiency standards and a reduced dependency upon foreign oil will take a front seat at the highest levels of public policy-making.

From individual homes to big business, the incoming Obama administration is challenging Americans to consider a green economy where energy is both generated and made more efficient through personal responsibility and new technology. Following the example of the European Union, where by the year 2020 advocates expect 20 percent of their power to come through renewable energy, the United States is capable of either matching or exceeding their goal while profiting from it economically.

President-elect Obama wants to invest $150 billion over 10 years in order to create a green economy where jobs, a reduction in greenhouse gasses and a generally lower carbon footprint will aid in not only saving the environment, but also in creating up to five million new jobs. Ranging from homeowners with solar panels to windmills for industrial power generation, for Black people to benefit from Mr. Obama’s stated policy we must first motivate ourselves to seek an education stressing math and the sciences.

Through either a college and university program or by way of trade schools and entrepreneurship, there is much to do in preparing for a “green future.” From servicing people’s homes with low energy light bulbs to insulating and weather stripping them for greater efficiency, one person can make a difference, save money and earn a living as well.

In the wind, solar and biomass fields, many colleges and universities are preparing a future work force with degrees in cutting-edge sciences and trade schools are training the next generation of technicians, mechanics and repairmen. Since these fields are entering the mainstream of American energy production, African-American youth can take advantage of this opening by acquiring the knowledge necessary to gain a foothold in the industry.

In much the same way Irish and Italian-Americans entered the firefighting and law enforcement professions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Black Americans have a unique opportunity to enter the green energy economy of the early 21st century.

A chance to good to ignore, parents, teachers and religious leaders should counsel our young men and women to think forward and to envision themselves not only fitting into the future workforce, but also on becoming important and irreplaceable fixtures within it.

While it is clear that difficult days are ahead because of a worsening economy, factory closings and layoffs, education nevertheless remains the means for advancement and a better quality of life. Mathematics and the sciences are of paramount importance and Black children must be taught at a young age to embrace these fields rather than to avoid them.

With the economic mess Mr. Obama is inheriting from the outgoing Bush administration, Blacks will find well paying jobs few and far between. As competition increases in proportion to the scarcity of employment options, low skilled workers will have much to lose as the country’s economic condition worsens and the government’s solutions take time to work.

The President-elect is coming to office with various crises awaiting him and building a green economy and infrastructure is one way to address the issues of energy production, the environment and unemployment. For those astute enough to see “the time and what must be done,” preparing for the difficult days ahead will help to secure a future for ourselves, our families and our people.

The incoming president, as the leader of the entire country, can only do so much to ensure all boats rise to the top. He can influence policies and programs in order to lay a foundation for advancement and prosperity, but he cannot help a people who will not help themselves.

Education in an of itself is only as good as the effort a student makes to master the subject matter, and as green energy begins to replace fossil fuels, an opportunity is only as good as one’s attempt to use it. In order to ensure a better quality of life for Black Americans, it’s already a known fact we must work twice as hard to achieve the same goals, so now more than ever, it’s time we get on the ball and roll with it.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.