07/06/2011 01:19 pm ET Updated Sep 03, 2011

Thanking Our Vets This 4th of July -- With Green Jobs

Sean Spurr, a Virginia National Guardsman, had been working in restaurants for the past six years and was, in his own words, "frustrated to death." He had sacrificed so much of his life and acquired many skills serving in the military, but no one in the civilian world was seeing his potential.

Every Fourth of July we celebrate America's independence from the yolk of the British Empire - and those servicemen and women who earned America her freedom, like Sean. As we celebrate this year, the nation finds itself once again seeking freedom - this time from our dependence on fossil fuels.

Our ability to provide a clean, reliable source of energy will determine the place of the United States in the world's economy and the prosperity of our people, including Sean and other veterans.  There are entrepreneurs, scientists, and political leaders who are seizing opportunities to transform our economy into one that is carbon-free.  Yet it is a path we have only begun to follow, and the jobs are not plentiful yet, because our leaders are not doing enough to incentivize or invest in the green economy.

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently determined that clean technology will be a $2.3 trillion investment opportunity globally over the next 10 years, if investors are given assurance that governments are serious about curbing global warming. Already, clean energy investment surged 30 percent last year to $234 billion worldwide, the Pew report said. And it continues this year, with investments by venture capitalists in the U.S. alone growing 26 percent in the first quarter to $1 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

The economic opportunities will flow to countries with policies that support a clean energy economy, Pew reports. China, for example, has specific renewable energy policies and manufacturing goals and led in clean energy investments last year with $54 billion, followed by Germany at $41 billion, and then the United States with $34 billion.

The American people agree with the proposition  that job creation and the protection of our planet go hand-in-hand. In a May 2011 survey by Yale University"sProjecton Climate Change Communication, 83 percent of Americans said they think job creation follows efforts to protect the environment. It found a startling 91 percent of Americans say that developing clean sources of energy should be a priority for Congress and the President, and it's across party lines. It also found that 71 percent of Americans say curbing global warming generally should be a priority for Congress and the President. The president has brought attention to the green economy, and made selected investment in clean technologies, but it's not enough. We need more.

In addition to more policies that drive the clean economy, we must also address the need for skilled labor for these new jobs.  It is only fitting on this Fourth of July that we acknowledge those who are training and giving opportunities to work in this new, future-focused green economy to the people who earned America its freedom and who protect it every day:  military veterans.  Sean Spurr found his long-sought place in the civilian world when he entered the weatherization training program offered through Veterans Green Jobs, and he is now a proud member of the green economy workforce.

Veterans are helping build and maintain biodiesel, geothermal, and solar thermal facilities through the Veterans in Piping (VIP) program offered by the United Association of  Union Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and HVAC  Techs.  VIP "graduates"  now have an opportunity to serve our nation in a different way -- by protecting the environment and building a clean energy economy. 

As we can see from Sean's struggle, we've only begun to realize the promise of a green economy.

On this Fourth of July we ask our leaders to commit to a new vision of independence that will bring jobs, security and a healthy environment especially for those who have sacrificed so much for their country.