Working together for a cleaner economy
By Mike Ferrufino and Sofia Aguilar
As the Biden administration commits to aggressively tackle the climate crisis and set ambitious goals to achieve a net zero economy by 2050, Americans need to work together to make sure that this transition to a cleaner economy is responsible, inclusive, equitable and participatory. Meeting the challenges of a sustainable economy must be marked by bold and intentional action centered around economic inclusion. Not only are thousands of jobs at stake, but all of us, including the sustainability sector have an opportunity and a responsibility to address the blind spots we have by concerning low-income and minority populations.
On one hand, the sustainability world has not been as inclusive with many low income and minority populations by not understanding their needs and failing to enable accessible prices or forms of financing. Organic food, renewable energy, electric cars, meatless hamburgers, among other clean and sustainable innovations fail to meet the needs many minority and low-income consumers face or are simply not economically accessible to them. These consumers are concerned with having to meet their job, food, safety, education, and childcare needs of today. They do not have the luxury of being able to plan and think about the impact and risks of climate change in the future. And this has given rise to a sustainable industry that has primarily provided job opportunities to non-Hispanic Whites.
On the other hand, 50 percent of job opportunities in the oil and gas industry are expected to be filled by people of color in the coming decades, with Hispanics/Latinos alone accounting for 31.5 percent, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Those numbers might appear statistical or impersonal, but they represent livelihoods, opportunities, stories to be told, so long as we allow it. They represent good-paying jobs where it is often possible to achieve a six-figure salary with only a high school degree. That is the kind of equitable and accessible opportunities that minorities and low-income populations need to secure upward mobility. And that is precisely the kind of opportunity they do not have in other industries.
In the state of Colorado, the oil and gas industry contributes more than $30 billion in economic impact and $1 billion dollars in taxes, which funds much needed education, infrastructure and other public programs. At the federal level, oil and gas is among the biggest revenue generators for the federal government. These economic benefits should not become an opportunity cost for the most vulnerable as we transition to a cleaner economy.
We should also acknowledge that it is irrational to demand that oil and gas not be a part of the menu going forward, because its demand is driven by all of us, consumers. We all continue to rely on oil and gas to fulfill our needs and wants. The recent moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands doesn’t affect demand or consumption - it only affects U.S. production. If consumers demand oil and gas, we will ultimately import it from other countries, supporting jobs abroad in markets that lack environmental and safety regulation. Wouldn’t it be better to support local jobs in our country, which have the strictest environmental and safety regulations in the world?
We Americans have a tendency to measure things through the lens of red or blue, right or wrong. These binary suppositions stifle progress and ignore reality.
We have earned the same choices in energy that we enjoy in other aspects of life. We need diverse energy sources to de-risk our future. We also need diverse workers, diverse leaders, diverse consumers. We are codependent, all of us--Black, Brown or White. Here in Colorado, where Hispanics are 70% of the minority population and Hispanic-owned businesses are growing at three times the national average, our state's economic strength is dependent on the strength of Hispanic consumers, workers, and small business owners. Hispanics are an irreplaceable thread in the American fabric, and the numbers bear it out. The U.S. is home to 62 million Hispanics, representing $2.6 trillion GDP. To put that into perspective, US Latino GDP is larger than the entire Canadian economy. If it were a nation of its own, this “Hispanic America” would represent the eighth-largest economy on the planet.
It is time to bring about innovations that fulfill the need of our growing diverse population and that bring jobs to those who need it the most. That will require intentional diversification of our workforce, leadership, and corporate/philanthropic boardrooms. Minorities can derive future economic security from our plentiful energy sector, including wind, solar, and indeed, oil and gas.
We must be mindful of this diversity as our country considers its energy future. Our cultural and economic ecosystem depend on the contributions of those seen and unseen, but millions of jobs could be imperiled by rash and short-sighted decisions imposed by policymakers. America is big enough for all of us – surely it can remain big enough for each of the energy sources with which it is blessed.
Mike Ferrufino is President/CEO of the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Sofia Aguilar is
Board Chair of the Colorado Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.