by Majora Carter, via the Huffington Post
Some would argue — and I’m one of them — that many government programs over the years have had disastrous consequences because they’ve lacked good planning. For example, we have a long and shameful history of dumping coal-fired power plants, along with chemical plants and other poison-spewing facilities, in our poorest urban and rural communities. Those land use decisions made a handful of people wealthy but condemned the millions of people who live nearby to levels of environmental inequality that do not reflect the values of democracy. And they come with huge public health costs that have to be picked up by taxpayers.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
For more than a decade, I’ve worked with communities across the country to create jobs and social service cost savings through green infrastructure and environmental stewardship. Success in this arena depends on a good plan, developed with all those who have a direct stake in the outcome.
Can you imagine someone trying to build a house without a plan? It would be a recipe for disaster. The same is true for programs to create jobs, boost our economy and revitalize our communities: you have to have a good plan.
I am enthusiastic about the plan released recently by the U.S. Department of the Interior to promote responsible solar power development on public lands in the western United States because it was written with input from county governments, local communities, solar power developers and conservation groups. It is designed to guide solar farms to pre-screened “Solar Energy Zones” with strong solar power potential and few conflicts with water, wildlife and nearby communities. But most importantly, it will put us on the smart track to a clean energy economy by supporting tens of thousands of jobs in communities that desperately need them across the West.
By setting some rules and goals that everyone agrees on, our government can play a crucial role in responsibly advancing market forces and creating good-paying, long lasting jobs here in America.
Back on the East Coast, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently came together to announce that the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation and the National Park Service will jointly manage 10,000 acres of federal and city-owned parks around Jamaica Bay in Queens to create an urban park that will inspire New Yorkers with an outdoor experience that has been sorely lacking.
I am hopeful that the same attention to collaboration and local job creation will be applied to Jamaica Bay and to urban parks, big and small, across the U.S. as it was in the western U.S. around solar energy.
These urban parks are just as crucial in our fight against climate change as clean energy. As fast as we put up solar panels and reduce CO2 emissions, we cannot avoid the next 50 or so years of climate change baked into our atmosphere from previous decades. Many cities and much of our nation’s transportation infrastructure are near increasingly volatile or rising waters, or both. Storm surges are becoming more and more threatening, municipal water systems will need to work harder, and urban “heat islands” will be exacerbated. Parkland and open space serve as climate adaptive green infrastructure that will help us address the climate change impacts headed our way.
From big wetlands to small, distributed green spaces, green infrastructure can play a crucial role in adapting our cities to climate change by naturally absorbing stormwater and cooling the air. It can also produce accessible jobs for fellow Americans who are currently depending on increased social service spending in the form of unemployment benefits and other types of taxpayer financed assistance such as food stamps.
We can build a future where sustainable developments create positive returns for developers, our government and communities alike. The Department of the Interior’s solar power plan is an important step down that path because it streamlines the process for developers, protects the environment and will jump-start the creation of tens of thousands of well-paying jobs in our rural communities.
Whether building solar and wind farms on our public lands, re-powering abandoned properties and brownfields with renewable energy or building urban parks in poor communities, we can create jobs that give residents a personal, financial and environmental stake in their neighborhoods. This is how we can revitalize our communities and rebuild our economy.
Majora Carter is an economic consultant and environmental advocate. This piece was originally published at the Huffington Post and was reprinted with permission.