Even if you don’t remember 1957, you’re probably aware of the influx of funding, research and science majors which US higher education experienced in response to the Soviet Union’s first-ever artificial satellite. The space race was on, and putting a man on the moon (a mere 12 years later) is still the standard by which large scale technological achievement is measured.
Well, if not falling behind in “the race for space” can motivate scientific education, the certainty of global warming should be far more able. And, by early indications (even absent much leadership from the bully pulpit), it is.
Even better news: unlike the space program — which really only involved a relatively small number of highly educated, mostly high-status, individuals — the race for sustainability will require effort from all portions and all strata of society. Sure, the development of new green technologies will require scientists and engineers, but much of the heavy lifting of implementation will be done by tradespeople and skilled laborers. While only a handful of workers directly laid hands on components which went into space, hundreds of thousands will be needed to lay hands on components which will help society become more sustainable. And those hundreds of thousands of “green collar” workers are going to need training, even as the climate scientists, the social analysts, the sustainable economists are going to need educating.
One of the folks leading the charge for green collar jobs is Van Jones, a Yale Law grad and the founder of the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, CA. Another is Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance. Both of them are powerful speakers, deep thinkers, and effective social change agents. Each of them — like many other folks — is interested in getting colleges and universities to help un(der)employed workers learn green skills and get green jobs.
Rebuilding American infrastructure isn’t a job which can be outsourced to Asia. Neither is retrofitting American housing stock for energy efficiency. Given appropriate leadership, response to global warming should be a shot in the arm for the ailing American economy. And a golden opportunity for higher education.