A healthy and high-tech green collar economy has been a great promise of the Obama administration. On the front lines of the fight to create green jobs and spur the economy is the Apollo Alliance, an amalgam of labor, business, and environmental groups. Jerome Ringo, President of Apollo, speaks with TreeHugger Radio about his group's "moonshot mission," the vitriol of Glenn Beck and Fox News, the resignation of Van Jones, and the role of African Americans in the climate fight.
Ringo was a keynote speaker at this year's Bioneers conference, and we thank the conference organizers for helping arrange this interview.
Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just click here to listen, right-click to download. Full text is available after the jump.TreeHugger: Creating green jobs is one of your main issues. Give us a bird's eye view of the state of the green collar economy right now.
Jerome Ringo: We recognize that overall we have an unemployment rate in this country of about 9.8%. In some states it's as high as 16%. But then in some cities you have huge unemployment rates. Flint, Michigan: 26.5%. And many cities around the country are 20% or above. So we've had a major loss of jobs: 700,000-plus jobs in a quarter in California. 650,000-plus jobs lost in Michigan in a quarter. The United Steel Workers of America lost 100,000 of its members three months out from December.
And so there's a hemorrhage of jobs in America. And we have an opportunity now through investing in training, in research and development of alternative energy, to create new green job opportunities that can help get America back on its feet again.
TreeHugger: How do we define what a green job is?
Ringo: It's really interesting. I testified in Congress recently before a committee to talk about green jobs and their potential economic impact. We spent 45 minutes of the testimony debating and trying to come to an agreement as to a sound definition of a green job. I believe that any job that is in place to promote alternative energy-use and production, that will take us off of fossil fuel, that is done in an environmentally friendly manner, is a green job. But there are many thing associated to that.
That could be recycling, that could be in the area of efficiency, but that also could be in the area of producing components and products that contribute to cleaning up the environment, helping to curb the impacts of climate change by CO2 reduction. Building wind turbines, manufacturing photovoltaic materials, retooling assembly lines to build hybrid vehicles and energy efficient vehicles.
So all of these are green jobs. But then when you talk about the manufacturing phase, someone has to design the wind turbine; that's a job. Someone has to manufacture the wind turbine; that's a job. Someone is going to have to install it. Someone's going to have to maintain it. All those are green jobs, because those wind turbines are going to use resources that are not going to be a disadvantage or create adverse impacts on the environment.
TreeHugger: Are you seeing green jobs appear in America the way you had hoped?
Ringo: They are appearing. But I think the first and most important step was the commitment by the leadership of this country, namely the White House and Congress, to make a $110 billion commitment toward green. We're talking weatherization, we're talking training, we're talking manufacturing. That is a real commitment that says that the government now understands the opportunity that can be created by virtue of a public investment.
It's an evolutionary process. It's not going to happen in a day. But we are seeing movement. I am here in Indiana this week where there is a major green jobs program going on with organized labor and the trade unions. They 're actually training people to do audits, training the trainers to do audits, and also training individual workers to perform weatherization projects, which will lower the energy costs on people's homes. So this is a win-win and there is movement.
Sure, it's going to require a level of patience by the American people, as this new ground that we are creating here. It's a process that will move forward and it'll be a somewhat slow process, but as time goes on and more investment is made in research and development to improve the green products that we're creating, we'll see the movement begin to accelerate.
TreeHugger: You're the president of the Apollo Alliance. Tell us what the Apollo Alliance is and what its mission looks like in America.
Ringo: In 2003, the Apollo Alliance was founded. It was called Apollo because in 1961 President John F. Kennedy made a commitment to the world that Americans could be on the moon in 10 years. We did not do it 10, we actually did it in 8. And we believe that we have our moon shot mission today that's comparable to the moon shot mission of the '60s.
And our moon shot mission today is to promote a major public investment that will guarantee that we can clean up the environment by producing and developing alternative energy, curbing the impact of global warming, but most importantly we can stimulate the American economy and put five million people to work in 10 years. But also it can help curb our dependency on foreign oil and get us off the oil barrel that we're being held over.
So Apollo is about building the green idea and using the can-do spirit of the American people to promote such an idea, stimulate American manufacturing, bring the ability to build components back to the United States. We're having to import too many manufacturing components in this country. Even though most of them were invented here, we now have to import them.
There's not one transformer on the grid system in America that's made in America. Photovoltaics were invented in the United States, but when we want photovoltaic material to build solar panels we must import the parts from other countries. 70% of the components for wind turbines are imported.
We've got to create a mechanism to manufacture those products in America which would surely put America back to work again, and all of those laid-off workers across this country can finally go back to work.
TreeHugger: If you Google the Apollo Alliance, the people who are talking about you the most are conservative websites and Fox News. How do you react to TV personalities like Glenn Beck when he gets out the whiteboard, which he has done, and he paints the Apollo Alliance as a "vast left wing conspiracy" and a political operative for the Democrats?
Ringo: Well, I want to extend my thanks to Glenn Beck because he's actually given Apollo more credibility. I spoke in Orlando, Florida, recently, and my meeting was picketed by the Florida Tea Party. People were holding signs up that said, "Glenn Beck for President" and that Jerome Ringo and the Apollo Alliance is a communist conspiracy.
It was really amazing because once I presented the speech I had an opportunity to visit with some of those Tea Party members who knew nothing about Apollo, who had no idea what Apollo was about. And once they came to the realization of who we were about, they seemed to have changed their tune as to opposing it. They simply didn't understand what they were opposing. They were simply doing what they were told.
I've always learned--with all due respect--that empty wagons make the most noise. And fortunately those numbers are few. The majority of the American people believe and recognize that we are in dire straits with respect to our economy, and they want real answers as to how we can fix it.
The majority of the America people recognize that we have environmental issues like climate change that we must address. They want to see it fixed. The majority of Americans recognize that we're importing too much oil and exporting too many jobs, and they want change and they want it now. And the Apollo Alliance offers a plan to fix it.
So we're not going to have everyone in America agreeing with us. There's still folks that don't believe that man landed on the moon; they think it was a movie shot in the desert of Arizona. So that's OK, but we've got to make sure that the American people move forward. And those naysayers, we just hope at one point they'll see the light.