Seattle is acting at this very moment to become carbon neutral by 2050. Over the next 30 years, Seattle will incubate and attract a new wave of high tech, green tech investors. We’ve already created a blueprint for a “prosperous and climate-friendly city” through the Seattle Climate Action Plan.
An efficiency improvement here, and a green space heater there, and our city will innovate its way to becoming a metropolis of shiny, new green things. This means industry, capital, and a highly skilled workforce to boot. Technical advisors to the city have already valued the market for energy efficiency in the U.S. at $520 billion with returns of $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. A green goldmine.
But who is Seattle leaving out of the picture on the other side of this bustling industry?
In 2013, a group of young leaders volunteering with Seattle-based climate justice organization Got Green, surveyed 146 of our peers in South and Central Seattle at colleges, festivals, parks, and street corners. We learned that while many media sources paint a picture of a nation emerging from the Great Recession, many young people of color in Seattle are not.
In May, Seattle Times reported from the Washington Employment Department that the “Seattle area jobless rate edges down” at just below 5 percent, while the Associated Press reported from the U.S. Labor Department that the U.S. unemployment rate was the “lowest in more than eight years”.
In contrast,the Seattle Office of the Mayor reports that youth unemployment tops 13 percent, while the latest state legislative report from Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board found “significantly higher” unemployment rates among young people of color compared to the general population of young adults. In South and Central Seattle neighborhoods, Got Green’s young leaders found that 32 percent of those we surveyed were unemployed, and of those working, 75 percent earned less than the living wage for a single adult.
How can young people participate in Seattle’s new green economy when we can’t put food on the table?
Seattle’s low-wage internships are not enough. We need a living wage and more pathways to the green economy. That’s why Got Green’s “Young Leaders in the Green Movement” committee, with the support of city council members Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien, wrote The Green Pathways Resolution, which calls for Seattle City Council members to create more jobs that benefit and conserve the environment, provide a living wage, and preserve or expand environmental health for workers and the surrounding community.
The resolution also calls on city council to advance green careers for those most adversely impacted by climate change: communities of color and low-income communities. According to the City of Seattle Equity & Environment Initiative and Equity & Environment Agenda, 13 out of 14 of the heaviest industrial polluters in the Seattle area are located within a half-mile of the places where communities of color, immigrants, and low-income residents live. The resolution will enlist a team to identify barriers to success in green career fields and outline a strategy for communities to overcome those barriers.
Additionally, the resolution supports cooperative models that enable communities to determine their own means of production. The neighborhood-based Rainier Beach Food Innovation District is one such model, where community members research, grow, cook, distribute, and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Workers work for themselves and their neighborhood, developing food science, security, and self-determined prosperity.
The Green Pathways Resolution reflects our own version of the American Dream, where through hard work, we achieve justice as well as our own definition of prosperity. Our work as young leaders in the green movement ensures young people of color get a seat at the table, where there otherwise would not be one.
And the environmental movement can’t move without young people of color on board.
Community partners behind the City of Seattle Equity & Environment Initiative and Equity & Environment Agenda have started laying the institutional groundwork to ensure that everyone can benefit from Seattle’s environmental progress.
With your help, we can all lead it forward.
Contact your city council member and urge them to vote “Yes!” on a Green Pathways Resolution.
Join us at City Hall on Friday, Sept. 23 when the Green Pathways Resolution gets heard by city council members!