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Generation Green

New Mexico’s youth may be the state’s best chance for transforming its economy—and future

September 30, 2009, 12:00 am

Those solutions can’t include business as usual. So says Greg Mello of the nonprofit Los Alamos Study Group. He believes for an authentic transformation to occur, lawmakers can’t just apply the “slogan or veneer” of green jobs to the usual suspects—aka the state’s nuclear facilities.

“The notion that the nuclear labs are going to ‘lead’ us anywhere good is not supported by all of the available data,” he says. “The labs are all about the conquest of nature, not about working with nature. And you just can’t change them—not overnight, not in five years, maybe in 50 years. But we don’t have 50 years.”

It’s a contradiction in terms, he says, to talk about green jobs at a nuclear weapons laboratory. But the kicker, he says, concerns jobs: “The labs produce very few, but highly paid, jobs.”

Investing in communities is much better than pumping money into elite institutions, he says. Just as Santa Fe’s disadvantaged youth are making the transition from dead-end choices to actively building a better world, so can the rest of New Mexicans.

“This is the transition we all face,” he says. “It’s very tempting to wring our hands at the situation in this country. But just around the corner, we can find a whole new level of community, energy and fulfillment by really getting involved to change things for the better.”

Young people around the state are hungry for those opportunities right around the corner—and many are eager to work on solutions toward both economic and environmental sustainability.

Juan Reynosa, field organizer for New Mexico Youth Organized, grew up in Hobbs, an area of the state heavily dependant on the oil and gas industry. His father has worked in that field for 35 years. Friends have joined that industry as well and, as jobs have dried up, Reynosa has seen them stare down a lack of opportunity.

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Mayor David Coss speaks at a press conference celebrating YouthWorks and its commitment to developing green jobs.

Green jobs were one of the first issues the nonprofit tackled, developing a Green Jobs Campaign, Reynosa says. There is the matter of New Mexico’s potential for solar, wind and geothermal development—the state is ranked second in the nation in terms of solar potential, 12th for wind potential. But green jobs also are about offering opportunities to New Mexico’s workers—young workers in particular.

“I grew up in this state, and I’ll tell you straight up, there are not enough opportunities for youth, and the ones that are there a lot of times seem to be for a select group of youth in New Mexico,” he says.

The green-jobs concept is about accessibility and allowing people to build themselves from the ground up to a good career, he says. It also shows that industries aren’t always there just to make profits, but also to help people. And that, he says, resonates in New Mexico.

“All my friends in New Mexico, we have a great sense of pride, and to be able to still live in our state and make something out of ourselves and build on that is very important to me, and to a lot of my friends,” he says, echoing Bott-Lyons when he points out the brain drain; New Mexico’s brightest youth often leave the state for college and then find greater opportunities elsewhere.

“I really do feel like that’s one of the reasons why we always are at the bottom of the list on so many categories,” he adds.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, Reynosa says.

New Mexico is on the cusp of an opportunity that could help people and communities—as well as build new industries and bring money into the state. For the 27-year-old organizer, transformation of the state’s workforce and future would also mean more young people could stay in New Mexico—“closer to their family and closer to the things they love.”   SFR


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