We luv Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio as much as the next guy, but it’s not like they were the only ones who showed up for the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday. We went over there to hook up with a contingent of EV owners and we gave up looking for them after about three hours but meanwhile we met some interesting other people, including a guy who builds a kind of EV-bicycle mashup thing called “ELF.” Yes, we met the ELF guy!
We’ll get to the ELF guy in a minute but for now let’s take a look at how the People’s Climate March dovetails with a couple of themes we’ve been exploring here at CleanTechnica, namely, the long overdue death of the old jobs-vs-environment line, and the impact of fossil fuels on community health.
The People’s Climate March And Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
Yeah, we know that the People’s Climate March was all about advocating for action on climate change. But when you break it down, the real meat of the issue is how people make a living.
In terms of energy jobs, fossil fuels have enjoyed a free ride for generations because there have been no competitive alternatives outside of hydropower and nuclear. Fossil stakeholders could handily make the case that environmental regulations kill jobs.
Now that the cost of wind and solar has been dropping like a stone, file the jobs-vs-environment argument under T for There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
First, there’s the obvious: green jobs growth has been skyrocketing in the wind energy and solar energy sectors (both of which actively recruit military veterans, btw), as well as growth in other renewable energy sectors and advanced-degree R&D fields.
Green jobs are also attracting talent away from fossil careers. Anecdotally, during last spring’s sneak peek at GE’s new “Space Frame” wind turbine tower one of the guys who escorted us up 97 meters to the top of the tower mentioned that after 20 years of banging his head against the wall in the oil business, he was finally finding his happy place in wind employment.
Although fossil fuel jobs growth has increased in some areas, other parts of the country have been left holding the bag. In particular, Appalachia has been bleeding coal mining jobs for generations with the advent of labor-cutting mechanization, most recently in the form of mountaintop removal. Somewhat ironically, clean energy has been opening up new opportunities for green employment in depleted coal regions.
That’s a harbinger of things to come for North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and other fossil fuel boom areas.
There’s also the issue of how fossil fuel operations can kill jobs in other sectors, such as tourism and agriculture, leading to long term economic malaise over and above disasters like the Kalamazoo oil spill (didn’t know we had one of those, did you?). While no form of energy harvesting is impact-free, the diversity of the renewable energy sector enables a more rational platform for reducing impacts.
The People’s Climate March And Public Health
In our fruitless search for the EV folks we stumbled into the staging area for student groups, which explains why most of the people we talked to for the next three hours were students. While some seemed a bit overwhelmed when asked “Why are you here and what do you want to accomplish?” many others were quite articulate.
A frequent theme that emerged was a concern for the environment as a local public health issue. Not that anyone suddenly didn’t care about polar bears any more, but what emerged was a focus on preserving and improving community well being through environmental action and clean energy.
A contingent from Swarthmore used the occasion to bring up an interesting point about academic institutions that teach sustainability but invest in fossil fuels. Here’s a particularly articulate expression from a student named Chris:
Swarthmore invests in destructive fossil fuels, and if it’s wrong to wreck the planet and wrong to poison communities, and its wrong to profit from that poisoning…Swarthmore can be a leader and reinvest in the just, sustainable, and green economy we all need.
A corollary theme of leadership by the next generation was voiced by one student in a group from the University of Alabama, which took an 18-hour bus ride to get to the People’s Climate March:
…it’s our job, it’s our responsibility now, we’re here, and we want to represent.
Speaking of representing, a quick shoutout to Ramapo College, which sent a group of more than 100 students and professors, and SUNY Albany, which sent at least 150. Go, team!
A group of students from the University of Pittsburgh came in from fracking hotspot Pennsylvania, and one of the students brought up the impact of fossil fuel harvesting on local agriculture with this succinct comment:
I’m here for the farms in rural Pennsylvania.
Yes, But What About The ELF Guy?
Okay, we were just getting to that. Our lost contingent of EV owners had been instructed to leave their EVs at home, but we found a sizeable contingent of cyclists, and right around there we found the ELF, which technically is classified as a bicycle. To be more precise, it’s a tricycle, but the point is that it can go wherever a bicycle is allowed.
We’ve been following the EFL along with our sister site Gas2.org for a couple of years now. You can pedal it like a bike, or you can let it run off the battery with the help of built-in rooftop solar panels (or a household wall outlet, if you choose).
That O-T logo in the front stands for Organic Transit, which is the name of the company that builds the ELF, founded by CEO Rob Cotter.
We asked Cotter who’s buying the ELF and while he affectionately called his creation a “street legal go-cart for adults,” he made it clear that he’s looking at the social benefits for individuals and local communities, including green jobs.
Unlike similar, more powerful electric bike/EVs on the market, the ELF was designed using simple components, so it could be assembled in local communities characterized by low-skilled labor.
Although the ELF doesn’t come cheap as a recreational bike — $5500 is the current asking price (yes, it’s already on the market, unlike some other EV trikes we’ve been hearing about) — Cotter noted a growing number of uses aside from exercising, commuting and personal errands, which could make the purchase well worthwhile. In the commercial sector that would include light delivery as well as monitoring and security patrols.
Cotter also foresees a role in physical therapy, noting the example of an ELF owner who was able to rehabilitate severe injuries to both legs by gradually switching from electric to pedal power.
Well, that wasn’t all we saw at the People’s Climate March, but we’re running out of space. If you were there, you can share your story in the comment thread.
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