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The Voice of the Black Community


Charlotte's first steps to equity through sustainable employment
Clean economy can lift opportunities for poor
Published Sunday, November 17, 2019 2:55 pm
by Rev. Corine Mack

The Rev. Corine Mack argues that a clean economy can provide the jobs needed for a growing region, especially for low-income citizens.

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When we talk about an environmentally sustainable future, it’s not often that we discuss the jobs we need to take us there. However, as experts are increasingly pointing out, the potential economic boon from transitioning to a clean energy economy is an opportunity for job creation that we can’t afford to miss.

As Mayor Vi Lyles noted at a recent city council meeting, the Charlotte region is projected to welcome home 10,000 formerly incarcerated citizens due to the early release “good conduct” provisions of the First Step Act. These “good conduct” citizens return at a time when present training and job placement services in Charlotte are already stretched and work options for those reentering Charlotte with records are severely limited.

For these thousands of primarily black and brown citizens reentering society, there’s an unparalleled opportunity to make them part of the new, clean energy economy.

In a move that was widely applauded by social justice, environmental, and faith leaders, the Charlotte City Council recently voted unanimously in favor of a resolution committing Charlotte to strive to attain zero emissions in its municipal buildings and transportation by 2030 and a nearly 80% reduction in per capita CO2 and equivalent emissions by 2050. To meet these goals, over 200,000 residences in Charlotte are candidates for energy efficiency retrofits or upgrades.

Good jobs in the residential energy efficiency space (e.g., improvements to insulation, windows, efficient appliances, etc.) are relatively quick to train for and can provide reentering citizens stability soon after they return. Already, over 84,000 North Carolinians work in energy efficiency, a figure that could skyrocket with the right investments.

Reentering citizens come with significant federal funds for job training, and funds for much of the additional mentoring and wraparound support needed for successful reintegration into society.  Taking advantage of this funding to get a jump-start on the energy efficiency work will not only help Charlotte achieve its resolution goals, but can help address the city’s last-place standing in economic mobility. Using equitable approaches to prioritize work, such as starting with the oldest/lowest tax value residences, will help ensure those homes with poor energy efficiency and high energy expense burdens are addressed early on.

As reentering citizens gain experience, and the workload expands beyond the capacity of local businesses to handle, equitable business models can be used to launch sustainable business startups to fill the future needs. This will not only keep energy efficiency money spent flowing within the Charlotte economy, but can provide a path to stability, wealth building, and long-term renewal in neighborhoods that were, in many cases, unjustly left behind by “business as usual” practices in earlier decades.

Meeting this challenge will not be easy. This requires, first and foremost, a commitment to making the transition to a 100% clean energy economy one that mandates an investment in our workforce. This demands leadership from more than just our local elected officials; it necessitates action from our federal representatives in Washington. Unfortunately, with recent votes to back the Trump administration’s dangerous rollback of the Clean Power Plan, Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr have demonstrated a disturbing disregard for sustainability and the future of North Carolinians. Every concerned resident of our state should urge them to take immediate action on climate.

The transition to a 100% clean energy economy won’t be simple, but for the thousands of formerly incarcerated citizens looking for a way to build their lives, it can be an opportunity like no other. The restorative effects of a commitment to building equity, opportunity, and social capital provides not only a just outcome for neighborhoods that have been left behind, but also the collective benefit of cleaner air and cleaner energy for all of Charlotte’s citizens.

The Rev. Corine Mack is president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP.


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