WASHINGTON — ‘Now is the time for bold investments in sustainability. Now is the time for a fundamental shift in how we think about our economy, the workers in it and our new energy future,’ Kate Gordon of the Apollo Alliance told several thousand national and local labor, political, social justice and environmental leaders and activists attending the America’s Future Now conference here June 2.

According to conference participants the possibility of a green, sustainable economy with good paying union jobs is within reach. It will require what one labor leader called ‘a new model of economic development.’

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) outlined why a green economy is in our nation’s self-interest. First, he said, ‘we have to break our dependence on oil. It is a national security concern.’ Second, he continued, ‘this is about job creation. We can create clean energy here and put Americans back to work.’ And finally, ‘we have to stop global warming. If we don’t act now we will see a worldwide catastrophe.’

‘Energy efficiency’ and a ‘long-term commitment to non-carbon energy’ should guide policymakers’ thinking, Merkley said. He added, ‘We need to bypass carbon and use wind, solar and wave.’

Merkley also suggested reducing our carbon footprint by initiating massive reforestation projects, utilizing light and high-speed rail and old-fashioned streetcars.

‘Our economy and our environment are twins joined at the hip,’ he said. Obviously, one affects the other.

One of the key partners fighting for a new energy future is the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Council. Mark Ayers, who heads the council, tied the struggle for a new energy future to good paying union jobs.

Ayers said ‘a new model of economic development’ that includes workers’ rights, infrastructure building and green industry is possible, but only with ‘broad labor-community partnerships.’

The Building and Construction Trades Council, which includes the Steelworkers, represents millions of workers who support a green industrial economy.

Along with a ‘new, vibrant identity,’ Ayers added, the labor movement needs to ‘pool its organizational strengths’ and empower members to ’embrace a new spirit’ of unity.

Carl Pope, from the Sierra Club, argued for a full-steam-ahead approach to green jobs. He said, ‘Green jobs come with scale, not with half measures and reluctance. If we are going to do it, we need to do it big.’

Boldness, commitment, and a new vibrancy characterized all the presentations. The conference, an annual gathering of the nation’s progressive movements, was organized by the Campaign for America’s Future.

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tonypec @ cpusa.org