The proliferation of green careers is no longer a dream or even a goal. It’s a necessity to prevent the devastating impacts of climate change and fulfill the mission of environmental justice. But for low-income communities, the promise of green careers remains largely out of reach. It’s principally due to the lack of access to higher education and the dearth of green jobs in these areas.
Access to Higher Education
The threat of climate change impacts us all. However, historically, it has been low-income communities, particularly communities of color, that have suffered the most, subject to higher levels of environmental pollution and fewer opportunities to embrace “green” practices than more affluent populations.
Though marginalized communities should benefit most from the adoption of environmentally sustainable solutions and the introduction of green industries to the community, such efforts to promote a green economy are too often stifled by the lack of access to higher education.
While many tout green jobs as the saving grace of communities heavily reliant on the fossil fuel industry. For example, the stark reality remains that the majority of green jobs require a substantial amount of training. Most green industries require an undergraduate degree in environmental science or engineering.
Environmental engineering, for example, is poised for rapid growth in the years ahead. And a four-year college degree is a minimum requirement for entry into this field. Environmental engineers looking to land the most desirable jobs will also often need to have either a graduate degree or professional certifications beyond the undergraduate level.
And that means that green careers are far too often inaccessible to residents of low-income communities. Aspiring green workers must first confront the challenge of paying for the college education they will need.
Increasing the accessibility of green careers to low-income communities, then, begins with an expansion of grant and scholarship opportunities for students from these communities who wish to pursue “sustainable degrees,” including funding support for post-graduate education in environmental engineering.
Access to Work
Training a new generation of green workers will be no help to low-income communities without green job opportunities. Otherwise, we risk perpetuating the problem. Furthermore, creating a brain drain in communities already struggling with poverty and ravaged by a history of environmental injustice.
Thus, increasing access to higher education for students from low-income communities must be twinned with the support of government and NGOs in developing the green economy in these communities. Students pursuing sustainable degrees, for instance, can receive aid. Like federal scholarships, grants, or student loan forgiveness if they return to their communities to aid in the development of the green economy.
The need for this two-pronged approach is critical. Emphasizing both education and employment extends beyond the students and workers directly involved in the emerging green economy. The economies of many of these communities have roots in the fossil fuel industry. Therefore, resistance to the transition to green industries may be strong.
And there is perhaps no better way to mitigate a community’s fears than to provide tangible proof of the positive impacts of the green economy on residents’ quality of life than to link the green transition to better education and higher-paying and more stable jobs in the community.
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Green careers are the future of the global workforce. But low-income communities fall behind, despite having the most to gain from the transition to the green economy. However, by overcoming barriers to higher education and access to green jobs that can change. Low-income communities can lead the way in achieving environmental justice. In addition to protecting future generations from the threat of climate change.
Author: Noah Rue