11/15/2010 09:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Green Economy

Governments around the world are starting to make a priority of developing new industries that will reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The United States government... sorta. The executive branch led by President Obama is moving ahead with subsidizing research and development of green industry with an eye toward creating lots of new jobs.

The Congress, has been more cautious about legislation meant to push back on global climate changes. With a new Republican House of Representatives set to take office in January, the already lukewarm reception to ambitious responses to climate change is likely to become downright chilly.

This week, HITN's Destination Casa Blanca took a look at the green economy and what it could mean to the Latino community. Visitors to this space and other blogs of particular ethnic interest may yawn loudly or simply harrumph, "This is everybody's problem, and everybody's economy!" there is an interesting profile to the Latino community that could shape how it views this issue.

For one thing... unemployment is much higher, over 13%, than it is in the population at large, stuck at 9.6%. For another thing, Latinos were heavily exposed in industries that have taken a beating in the economic downturn, like construction, manufacturing and retail. Latinos are more likely than other Americans in urban areas to live near polluting highways, waste transfer stations, and industries. In rural areas, they are heavily exposed to agricultural chemicals, and polluted runoff.

My guests, Javier Sierra of the Sierra Club (uh... no relation), Javier Madrid of the Center for American Progress, and Hector Sanchez of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement brought the audience up to date on the prospects and possibilities for the green economy in general, and for the Latino community specifically.

Here's why it's an open question: Take a quick scan of the attendees at an ecological conference, solar energy confab, or global climate change meeting and you'll see a lot of white, well-educated, upper-middle class people. That's no knock on anybody. It's just the way it is. The pilot programs, R&D money, subsidies, and other money starting to flow into green pockets is going to the well-connected and well-educated... and for the moment, that's not a Latino-heavy slice of Americans.

However, as Hector Sanchez was quick to point out, the accumulated expertise and the high levels of unemployment of Latinos in the construction trades offers great opportunity in retro-fitting, and training in energy efficient construction techniques. The shortage of Latinos in STEM-track degree programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), offers, in the near term, fewer shots at the money gushing into these programs.

One strong conviction my guests returned to again and again was that environmentalism is not the private playground of well-off and well-educated Americans. The downstream effects of ignoring the environment hit everyone, and very heavily burden the poor. The responsibility for fixing the problems we've created for ourselves will ideally, involve everyone, require something from everyone, and (fingers crossed) ultimately benefit everyone as well.

I hope you'll take the time to watch the extensive excerpts from this week's show online at It's a little different from what we usually do, but a reminder of the way widely shared national challenges cut as issues in very different ways in different American communities. Stay tuned.

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