As an advocate for a clean-energy economy, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins stands at the intersection of economics and environment, working to make the case that “environmental protection is something good for the economy.”
Ellis-Lamkins, chief executive officer of the Oakland-based Green For All, says that too often the public is presented a false choice – environmental protection or jobs. Steps to improve the environment – updating infrastructure, for example – can create jobs.
Environmental advocates, Ellis-Lamkins says, “can’t just be the people coming to shut down the coal plant.”
Ellis-Lamkins cites a report issued in October 2011 by Green For All – in partnership with American Rivers, the Economic Policy Institute and the Pacific Institute – that estimates nearly 1.9 million jobs would be created by upgrading the nation's infrastructure to handle stormwater and wastewater. Spending $188.4 billion in water infrastructure – the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is necessary to manage stormwater and preserve water quality – over five years would generate $265.6 billion in economic activity.
Beyond economics, such an update of a crumbling infrastructure would reduce water pollution and public health, the report states.
“Every year, sewer overflows contaminate U.S. waters with 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage,” the report states. “This sewage contains pathogens such as bacteria, parasites, and viruses, as well as pharmaceuticals, synthetic hormones, and personal care products.”
It’s hard to sell people on the long-term benefits of clean water and clean air when they are worried about losing the house, Ellis-Lamkins says. Green infrastructure projects address both issues.
Green jobs also often take advantage of existing skills. Weatherization projects, for example, put to work carpenters idled by the collapse of the housing market.
“It really reintroduces the idea of people working with their hands,” says Ellis-Lamkins who before joining Green For All headed both the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA.
Ellis-Lamkins and Green For All also take the “go green” message to people of color and to low-income neighborhoods – communities often overlooked.
“Those are the people most impacted by the problems we talk about,” Ellis-Lamkins says, noting that, for example, respiratory problems associated with air pollution are high among minority groups.
Green For All has recruited popular artists such as The Black Eyed Peas, Drake, Wiz Khalifa and Wyclef Jean to reach out to new audiences.
Ebony has twice included Ellis-Lamkins in its Power 150 and Essence named her one of the 25 Most Influential African-Americans in 2009 and one of the 21 Leaders of the New School in 2010. Black Enterprise Magazine named Ellis-Lamkins one of the 40 Next: Emerging Leaders for Our Future in 2010.
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