What are “green-collar” jobs, and what can they do for the North Country?

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Employees of the U.S. Forest Service. (Photo: USDA)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The term “green” is synonymous with energy methods like wind and solar power. It’s also in line with recycling and anti-littering movements nationwide, as groups push to reduce trash discarded in areas of natural beauty. Another phrase, “green-collar jobs,” is making its way into the spotlight, helped out this week by a new coalition looking to use federal funding to establish new protections in the Adirondack Park. Green collar jobs are one of the pillars of making it all happen.

On Monday, “Forever Adirondacks” released a 15-point agenda of how they plan to help the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park using American Rescue Plan funding. Those points are split into three categories: Clean water, green-collar jobs, and wilderness.

Green-collar jobs consist of more than sustainable energy, or picking up trash. For Aaron Mair, “Forever Adirondacks” campaign manager, green-collar jobs could be the crux of creating a better Adirondack Park – forever.

“Wind, solar, geothermal are already proving to be a cost-efficient Green New Deal investment and are already paying off and already producing cheaper, cleaner energy,” said Mair in an interview on Monday. “The other asset that’s cheaper and cleaner is wilderness protection.”

The green-collar jobs that Mair wants to see a focus on are those that directly cultivate the wilderness of the Adirondacks. The park’s many smaller towns and villages don’t often have departments of public works. If they did, Mair says they would need to boast a whole different set of skills from city- or county-based DPWs. It’s a whole different world from sinkholes and trash collection.

“You’re going to need public works infrastructure that knows how to repair trails,” Mair said. “One of the biggest threats and risks to the Adirondacks is that it’s being loved too much, so what we need is ecological-based solutions and professions that are going to deal with that over-loving.”

Mair repeated information that the Adirondack Council has used in studies on trail decline. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, trail usage throughout the Adirondack Park has gone up, leading to parking issues, erosion, and much more.

The idea is that green-collar jobs would help the park adapt to its own popularity. Simply put, green-collar jobs are about creating careers out of taking better care of the wilderness that the “Forever Adirondacks” campaign seeks to protect.

That said, the Adirondack Park isn’t just a tourist attraction. It’s a 6-million-acre network of small towns and villages, many of which have declined as some industries have left. John Sheehan, communications director at Adirondack Council, sees a focus on green-collar jobs as a way to repair communities that have withered under the shadow of globalization and mechanization.

“Whether we need trail crews, engineers, solar panel installers, electricians, power grid managers, land managers, etc., it will be necessary to develop a workforce with the right skills.,” Sheehan said. “Those candidates can come from all over the state, and help rebuild Adirondack communities that have struggled to sustain their populations. Good-paying, long-lasting jobs will be the key.”

Sheehan gave a long list of job types that “green-collar” can encapsulate. That list includes wilderness management, renewable energy installation and repair, road and bridge work to accommodate storm damage, water treatment facility work, boat inspection and decontamination, and de-icing roads in the winter.

Using American Rescue Plan funding to fuel growth in the green-collar realm is an investment. Mair doesn’t shy away from that fact. Instead, he says that a great pitch for that investment already lies within the Adirondack region’s past. During the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a Civilian Conservation Corps to bring workers to the region and lessen the pains of national unemployment.

“In fact, the Civilian Conservation Corps became your National Park Service, it became the rangers you see today,” said Mair. “That experiment began during the depression-era economic downturn that provided the infrastructure for our park systems nationwide.”

Many people who relocated to the Adirondacks due to involvement in the corps ended up settling and putting down roots in the region. Mines and lumber camps were draws for many, but many of those jobs have long since diminished down to nothing over the last 100 years. The idea now would be to go back to the Civilian Conservation Corps model, using the framework to create something new; a Civilian Climate Corps.

“We believe it will work because it’s already worked,” Mair said.

Mair would like to see the growth of green jobs become a pipeline for students learning trade skills while involved with groups like BOCES, which are currently heavily involved in trades like automotive work and forestry. At the Adirondack Council, Sheehan suggested that such an initiative could also be a way to offer trade skills to inmates.

“As the state reduces its inmate population and closes state prisons across the North Country, we believe that part of the state’s just transition away from incarceration can have a double benefit. It can allow people who love the Adirondacks to stay and to put their skills to work in a new field of employment that just might feel better than working in a prison,” Sheehan said.

The green-collar concept is already being honed in on in other parts of the country. Washington, D.C.’s Office of Planning features a page on the subject. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty created an advisory council on green-collar jobs, prompted in part by the project to restore the Anacostia River.

The “Forever Adirondacks” campaign aims to gain federal attention after recent interest from the Biden administration in the region, and in cultivating jobs as well as wilderness and water conservation. It also calls for an Adirondack Green New Deal, the improvement of broadband internet across the park, and the approval of a $4 billion environmental bond act. The plan in full can be read online.

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