El D­a de la Tierra

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, when environmental protection is given the national spotlight. This year, the urgency of addressing global warming will be a key concern. The Latino community has a tremendous stake in this issue””not only in avoiding the most devastating impacts of climate change but also in participating fully in the jobs, investment, and innovation that will be required to rebuild our economy on a foundation of clean energy.

This op-ed, by CAP’s Bracken Hendricks, was first published in Spanish here.

Hispanics in the United States lead the country in their understanding that immediate action on climate is necessary. A recent poll commissioned by the National Resources Defense Council shows that 66 percent of Hispanics think tackling climate change should be a “high” or “very high” priority compared to only 48 percent of non-Hispanics.

Hispanics are right to make this a priority. If unanswered, a warming planet threatens vast regions of the country and will affect millions of people. It would lead to longer, more severe droughts in the desert Southwest, increasing wild fires, and crop loss from Texas to California. Costal communities from New York City to Miami will face property damage and lost tourism income from more severe storms. And in Latin America, climate change means threats to human health in cities like Lima, Peru that depend almost entirely on melting glaciers for access to clean drinking water.

But at the same time, taking action to address climate change through energy efficiency can drive a new wave of investment in communities that will quickly create jobs and economic opportunity.

Retrofitting buildings to save electricity is one of the fastest ways to protect the environment since we use more energy in our homes than in our cars. The cleanest, cheapest source of energy is the energy we never have to use, but it takes work to cut those energy bills. So, investing in energy efficiency will jumpstart demand for high-paying jobs, which would be especially welcomed in the hard-hit construction industry. Last month the unemployment rate for construction workers stood at 25 percent””well above the national 9.7 percent unemployment rate.  In four states (Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, and Florida), fully 40 percent of construction workers have lost their job since the height of construction.

Hispanics have been hit particularly hard by this “tool belt recession.” During the housing boom of the last decade, the unemployment rates for Hispanics and non-Hispanics were virtually the same according to the Pew Hispanic Center and the Economic Policy Institute. But after the housing bubble burst and construction jobs rapidly diminished, the gap between Hispanic unemployment and non-Hispanic unemployment widened. Hispanic males were heavily concentrated in construction so as jobs declined they suffered disproportionately.

Today, therefore, there is a large pool of skilled construction workers ready to re-enter the labor market. Few areas in construction are poised to grow as rapidly as energy efficient retrofits. The Center for American Progress estimated that cutting energy use 20 percent to 40 percent in just 40 percent of America’s buildings would create 625,000 sustained jobs over a decade driving half a trillion dollars of new investment, while saving as much as $64 billion every year on energy bills.

A federal program of incentives for energy efficiency would cut energy use and rapidly create jobs within the construction industry and in retail, manufacturing, and local economic activity as well. Congress is currently considering HOME STAR, a program that would give consumers a rebate of as much as $3,000 to $8,000 for retrofit projects such as installing a new efficient hot water heater, furnace, or air conditioning system, and it would cut the cost nearly in half of replacing leaky windows, sealing duct work, and insulating attics for millions of Americans.

Working people are struggling to improve their economic security while debate over national energy policy remains divided. But smart policies like HOME STAR stand out by providing a way for all Americans to work together today toward common goals. This Earth Day, let’s get to work immediately, one home at a time, creating clean energy jobs and a better future for the planet through energy efficiency.

Bracken Hendricks is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress

4 Responses to El D­a de la Tierra

  1. prokaryote says:

    Related “Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, “The Secret of El Dorado””

  2. Ibrahim Mohammad says:

    We have record low interest rates and they are not fueling construction. We all know why. This month ends the 8,000 dollar buyer incentive. Climate tax will retard housing starts. Guaranteed. Banking reform will punish the development of CDO’s and subprime loans.

  3. mike roddy says:

    We need additional incentives for efficiency microprocessors and retrofits. This work is labor intensive, and is financially viable with incentives. Right now some utilities provide rebates, others don’t, and the 179d Federal tax credit only makes sense for larger facilities- you need an energy audit, and there’s a lot of paperwork.

    I’m a distributor for Entergize hotel room energy management systems- the whole world uses them outside the US and Canada. Energy savings average 35% per room, and payback time is rapid. Guess what? Few hotels use them, and plenty that talk the green talk don’t walk it. If they became standard, I could employ 120 installers here in Washington, not counting manufacturers and warehousemen (also in Washington). We’re still way behind…

  4. Dan B says:

    Ibrahim (& Bracken);

    My neighbors are latino/a, African, African-American, and Asian. My next door neighbor Darren was a supervisor for Turner Const. for cruise ships in the Carribean and Alaska, as well as complex commercial projects locally. Parris is a general contractor working on one house – no more on his list. Tim’s been spending a lot of time around the house. Detrick’s a carpenter, the son of a general contractor. Most of them are brothers who know how to get it done when it can’t be done. They’d like to add clean green energy to their construction portfolio. They know the best dollar you spend is the one you don’t send to Saudi Arabia, the second best is the one you don’t spend on energy.

    When we get together and talk energy efficiency for our homes they start talking about how the media isn’t telling us how serious global warming is. They’d like to do something to fix that. Most big money is tied up in speculation. Right now speculation is hiding it’s ugly face.

    If big money that got bigger and fatter on sheer shameless speculation gets a clue and puts some real money towards “boring” things like efficiency and sustainability we’ll be on board. We’ll make money and so will the people who invest. Otherwise we know China’s gonna eat our lunch. Fossil fuels are dying. We’re going to grab the strongest winning track. Will it be American dollars or Chinese?

    If it’s American we’re ready. If not we’ll put our money back in our small community – Credit Unions and Cooperatives, maybe Grameen Bank. To hell with Wall Street fossils.