A blog post by Fossil Free Fellow, Ben Ishibashi.

As an environmentalist committed to  climate justice, I’ve always strongly supported the idea of ‘green jobs.’ But I don’t think I ever thought about what goes into a green job before I began working with green workers here in St. Louis. I associated ‘green’ with safe and clean. I assumed that so-called ‘green’ employers understood and valued their workers’ contributions to the building of a better world. I thought that investing in green jobs training would, on its own, lead to a plethora of well paying, long-term jobs for a new wave of green collar workers.

Since beginning my fellowship in St Louis, I’ve learned how radically naïve such thinking is. I’ve met workers at electronic recycling plants here who are forced to work with uncontained, poison-leaking batteries in mildewed or asbestos-ridden facilities, all without health benefits or even a working indoor bathroom. I’ve learned that glass recycling workers are denied safety gear that would prevent them from inhaling millions of tiny glass shards as they work, and develop respiratory problems that their benefits don’t cover. In every sector of the green economy here, I’ve met workers who have to work two, or even three jobs just to make it by.

I’ve also met too many people to name who went through federally funded green training programs only to find that no green jobs are available. People who sought not only to better their own lives, but improve the world we all in live in, are left jobless and without options. We, as an environmental movement, have let all of these people down. Through our inattention, we have allowed the promise of green jobs to be twisted into the service of exploitation.

While these abuses and failures are horrific, they are not insurmountable, and people are already organizing themselves to fight for real green jobs. Over the past few months I’ve been working with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), 350.org’s partner organization here in STL, to build a new green workers’ association called the Network of Environmental Workers (NEW). During that time I’ve had the honor of working with dozens of brave men and women in the green sector who have had enough of the workaday abuse and exploitation they currently faced. I’ve met workers who recognize how important their jobs are to solving the climate crisis, who are not afraid to demand that the full value of their labor be recognized. Joining together across industries, these people are building a new kind of workers’ association that not only fights against the brutality of their so-called ‘green’ workplace that currently exists, but also campaigns for the creation of well-paying green collar jobs that not only values the importance of environmental work, but also serve as the basis for a new, more sustainable economy

The working people I’ve met working for NEW are as aware and awake to the danger of climate change as any college student or professional activist. While their environmentalism takes a different form then campus- or NGO based campaigns, it is no less, and if anything is even more, green than anything I’ve experienced before. It recognizes the interconnectedness between all struggles for a better world, and acts upon them.

I’ve come to realize that climate justice is not just about reducing emissions, but about giving people the power to fight back against injustice in all its forms. It’s not enough to save the world from climate chaos: we have to make sure the world we save is also fairer.