What happened to the guy who delivered blocks of ice to my
great grandmother’s kitchen a hundred years ago? What about the guy who fixed
leather harnesses for the horses/buggies that were still the dominant mode of
transportation back then?
Chances are, those workers and many more like them – –
people displaced by new technologies – – learned new trades. They may have
resisted, but the evolution of technology was inevitable and remarkably swift.
In today’s globally competitive market, with information traveling at the speed
of light to every laptop and iPhone, change will come even faster. We need to
prepare the workers who are in today’s version of horse-and-buggy industries
and we need to do it fast.
I was in Brussels and London last week and governments there
are including green job training in their stimulus packages. Will these
investments give them more return on their euros than our federal spending on
bonuses for failed bankers? When will we get smart about retraining the
workforce and stimulating a low carbon economic recovery that is based on
energy and technology that will last into the next century, instead of hoping
to revive industries that are deeply rooted in the last century?
Auto workers in Detroit should be learning how to build and
service electric cars powered by hydrogen or new battery technology. Laid off
construction workers should be learning how to install solar panels or how to
insulate buildings to save energy. Unemployed bankers could be learning about
counting carbon emissions and about how to reduce those greenhouse gases and
use credits to help others do likewise. These are all skills that will be in
great demand as the economy recovers, not just for a few more years of
pollution-based prosperity, but for generations of sustainable growth to come.
When you see a train coming down the tracks, you can find a
way to get onboard and steer it or you can wait to be run over. When I compare
the response of the US to that of other countries that are also suffering from
the current economic meltdown, it appears we may not even know the train has
left the station. Green job training is a cost-effective way to blow the
whistle and catch up!