Green jobs and justice

Hello from Rio! We are at the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit tracking the negotiations on green jobs and green economy, along with the Adopt a Negotiator project. Follow our adventures over on the Adopt a Negotiator site, and read our first green jobs entry, cross-posted below!

I had a crazy and great experience this morning, speaking at the main plenary on the last day of the Youth Blast, alongside Marina Silva! Marina Silva is a super inspirational Brazilian environmentalist and politician, who worked alongside Chico Mendes, who was assassinated for defending the Amazon. She has served as a senator and as environment minister, and during her time in government spoke out and acted against deforestation, hydroelectric dams, biofuels, and GM crops. This morning’s session was about justice, and Marina addressed the issue of intergenerational justice. She talked about how her generation fought for freedom, and that we as the upcoming generation must use those freedoms to build the future we want to see. I am going to take her up on that challenge and I copy below the speech I made on green jobs and justice. Let me know what you think!

Hello everyone, it is so exciting for me to talk after Marina Silva, and to talk in front of all of you at the Youth Blast. I’ve enjoyed meeting many of you and look forward to talking more after this!

My name is Hanna Thomas, I’m from the UK, and I am a Co-Director of a youth-led charity called The Otesha Project UK. We train up young people to become advocates for social and environmental change, and the project I work on there is to do with green jobs. I try and help young, unemployed people from the more deprived areas of East London into training and employment in the green sector.

So, I have a couple of questions – who here is a student? Raise your hands. And who here is worried about what kind of job they’ll get when they graduate, or if they’ll get a job at all? Ok, lots of you!

Well, let me tell you my story. I graduated 7 years ago, in 2005. I studied Classics, which is incredibly far from environmentalism, and not relevant at all! When I graduated, I went through the regular series of internships, volunteering, and jobs, until I got lucky. I was volunteering at Otesha when I was offered a job, and over the past 4/5 years I’ve stayed working there and am now a Co-Director. I was very, very lucky. And I hate to say it, but things aren’t so easy now, and they won’t be as easy for you. I have a sister who is 19, and I worry about the kind of job market that she will graduate into.

That’s why I started working on this issue. I was surrounded by amazing young people at Otesha who were keen to change the world, but couldn’t find a job. They were volunteering, and volunteering, and volunteering. In the face of what we saw as two great challenges – climate change, and youth unemployment – we wanted to match up the people that need the work, with the work that needs to be done. We want green and decent jobs for young people.

This is where the issue of justice comes in. Because it’s no good just talking about ‘green jobs’, or the ‘green economy’. Because, let’s face it, the new, green economy could be just as crap as the one we have now. It could be just as exploitative, with people being overworked and underpaid, and big corporations controlling the means of production. We need to ensure that the jobs that come out of the transition to clean energy are decent, and that the economy is fair.

The definition of a green job I use, is one that provides a living wage, that can support a family, that provides opportunities for training and progression, and that provides a safe and healthy work environment. I’m talking about jobs installing solar panels, or building wind turbines, but I’m also talking about jobs in non-traditional industries, like health and beauty. Women who currently work in nail salons, or hairdressers, can suffer all kinds of respiratory and reproductive health problems, as well as cancer, because of the chemicals they use. We need to think about greening up all our jobs.

We have to demand better. And we have to demand that these jobs go to those that have been traditionally excluded from the current economy. That includes young people. It includes women, people of color, and indigenous people. I read yesterday that in Brazil, White and Asian people earn twice as much as Black people, who earn more than indigenous people. It shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be that way.

If hearing any of this makes you angry. If any of the workshops you’ve been to at Youth Blast, on fossil fuel subsidies, ecocide, or climate change have made you angry, that’s ok. If we, as young people, are going to be angry about anything, it has to be these issues of climate change, jobs, environmental degradation, and development. These issues are our future, and who has a greater stake in that future than young people?

Feel that anger and own it. Let it power and propel you forward into Rio+20. Demand better. We deserve it.


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