President George Bachrach's Message: Its the Economy, Stupid!

As advocates for the environment, we need to understand the simple, transcendent issue of our time …”It’s the economy, stupid!”  Government is in survival mode.  Budget gaps yawn and the fiscal crisis is daunting.  Too many of our fellow citizens remain unemployed.  What can we do?

First, we need to change the nature of our debate.  We need to transform environmental concerns into economic issues.  Who will build and operate the next generation of wind farms?  Who will manufacture new wind blades and solar panels?  Who will retrofit commercial buildings and weatherize residential units?  These are the jobs of the 21st century.   If we cannot lead the nation on renewable energy and energy efficiency, we will lose the jobs and economic recovery that goes with it.    

Similarly the protection of our oceans, beaches, rivers and parkland must also be viewed through an economic prism.  Tourism is a $14 billion industry.  If we cannot protect our beaches, rivers and parks, we will jeopardize those jobs as well.  The fishing industry is a $5 billion dollar industry.  We’re not in Kansas, Dorothy!   Our oceans and beaches need protection, not just for their magnificent beauty, but the jobs that go with it.

If we need to change the message, we also need to change messengers.  While government cares about the environment, jobs and the economy are their priority.  While government will listen to environmental advocates, they listen more closely to business and labor. 

The environmental community must build new alliances to business and labor.  ELM formed the ELM Corporate Council in 2008 inviting companies like Genzyme, Millipore, Legal Sea Foods, Stop & Shop, Aggregate Industries, State Street Bank, Cape Wind, Tufts Health Plan, Triumvirate Environmental, Grossman Marketing, among others, to join us in our advocacy.  When we make our argument to government, the economic aspect is now far more plausible. 

ELM is also in discussions with organized labor to form an ELM Labor Council.  For example, if we are to move from dirty, coal-fired power plants to clean, renewable energy, we must provide retraining and transitional programs for displaced workers.  If we are to reinvest in mass transit so workers can get to work, we must convince transit workers to join us in finding cost savings.  We cannot move these issues with labor as an adversary.  We must find common ground and partnership. 

As we seek both environmental protection and a robust economy, our concern cannot be merely job creation.  It must also be a matter of equity, making certain jobs are accessible to those who need them the most.   We must partner with “Gateway” cities and urban centers to revitalize downtowns and bring jobs to those who have been abandoned by our struggling economy.

We are on the cusp of great change.  We can transform our economy by building new sources of clean and renewable energy.  We can protect our oceans, beaches, rivers and parklands and the industries that go with it.  But we must be smarter.  We must craft new messages, new alliances and seek new messengers if we are to succeed.


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