PHAEDRA ELLIS-LAMKINS: What would it take to create a thriving green economy?

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

What’s it going to take to spur this nation to act on the opportunities that a green economy presents?

First, I think it’s important to note that we already have a thriving green economy. More people actually work in the green economy than the fossil fuel sector. The question, though, is, how do you scale it enough that people go back to work? The first step is green incentives. We have to stop providing incentives to fuels that pollute and provide incentives to the industries we want to grow. The United States has to pick winners and losers, and we want to pick winners that put people back to work and sustain the planet.

The “green economy” includes a pretty big spectrum. Where should investments be made now to have the biggest impact?

Right now we’re really focusing on water and food. Take water, for example. We think there are just incredible opportunities. We’re looking at places where there’s infrastructure needed that would provide more access to clean, fresh water and also employment. The city of Philadelphia is spending nearly $2 billion alone on green infrastructure to clean up the city’s water.

You recently wrote about green jobs being “politically touchy.” How do we move the green economy discussion beyond environmentalism or partisan politics?

The reason some people want to kill green jobs bills is because of the coalition of people who support it. If you’re looking at politics, if you can bring together the environmental movement, the labor movement, people of color, people who are struggling to make it now, then that’s a pretty powerful coalition.

I was testifying in Congress and a Republican member said, “I don’t believe in global warming, but I want those jobs.” And the reality is, regardless of your politics, you want those jobs. So, in place like Mississippi and Louisiana, both places with Republican governors, they’re creating incentives for renewable energy. They’re working to attract the jobs, but they don’t want the political coalition that goes along with them.

I know you’ve had quite a bit of success supporting federal policies, but if you were president for a day, what additional policy would you be sure to enact? What’s missing that could really launch the green economy in this country?

I’d want to have some sort of climate bill that actually dealt with incentivizing growth of the green economy. I’d also look at some best cases like California and others and figure out how we can replicate what they’re doing.

The thing that is so frightening for me is that when our economy is lagging behind Germany and elsewhere, then clearly we have a problem. And whether you agree or disagree on the environment, you ought to be concerned with the future of this economy.

How we ensure that a green economy benefits many and not just the few?

The thing that is most important is that we bring everyone with us. There’s no question the green economy is going to grow. The question is, do we bring as many people as possible with us?

Why is it important to your organization to “redefine the face of environmentalism” by connecting with popular musical artists and others?

It’s important because change doesn’t have to be painful.

When you come to a meeting of the environmental movement, they’re not down enough, there’s no food, it’s in some odd room … and that’s not the model for change that we want. We’re fighting for justice. We’re fighting for equality. We want people to be able to live in the homes and communities where they work. We want people to feel good about that.

So, we want people to go to a concert and hear music and see their values reflected. When we went on tour with the Black Eyed Peas or worked with the artist Drake, my nieces wanted to come, too, and it showed me it was a much more powerful tool than almost anything we’d done because then people could understand it based on their own lives. 

What’s in store for the future of the green economy?

I think the future is really bright and that what we’re seeing is a last-ditch attempt of resistance—but it’s because of the success the green economy is starting to achieve. We’re seeing communities stand up across the country and say, “We want what this country promises. We want healthy and sustainable communities.” I feel beyond hopeful, because it wouldn’t be this hard if the green economy weren’t being this successful.

Green Economy Advocate PHAEDRA ELLIS-LAMKINS

Over the past couple of years, the United States has weathered a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Canadian pipeline debates and the challenges of recession. Through it all, the promise of the green economy seems to be just sitting there like a golden opportunity to cure our ills. Why is the U.S. waiting on the sidelines while countries like Germany, China and Japan forge ahead?

To get some answers, Momentum turned to PHAEDRA ELLIS-LAMKINS, chief executive officer of Green for All—a national organization that builds support for the green economy.

Published Interview

Read the interview with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins as it appeared in the printer version of Momentum.

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Green For All is a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty..

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