The Common Good

Make it Right: Bring Jobs to the Wetlands

Before the Gulf Coast's 100-percent-human-made oil spill disaster, there was Katrina. That hurricane wasn't the strongest to hit New Orleans. Forty years earlier, Hurricane Betsy packed an even stronger punch. The difference in damage was due in large part to the city's surrounding horticultural infrastructure -- in this case, wetlands and cypress groves. This plant life provided a buffer from storm surges. These natural defenses were systematically removed (paid for by our tax dollars) to make it easier for oil companies to move product. Stripped of these defenses, the other major culprit -- poorly built levies -- were unable to hold back the undaunted waters.

During my work with the Make It Right Foundation to design a green-collar workforce training and placement program, I met people who recognize the value of these wetland systems for the security they help provide. They inspired me to look deeper into how these valuable assets could be improved and leveraged to provide well-paying jobs for people to do that work.

Today, wetlands along the Gulf Coast are all under threat from the oil, regardless of their proximity to oil routes, and must be protected and rebuilt. It's my goal to see a massive wetland restoration project with a job training and placement system attached. These are good jobs that can provide therapy for people returning from war or prison, or living in generational poverty. The value of the inland property they are protecting far outweighs the costs of restoration.

Since we know climate change predicts more and more severe weather, we need to put Americans to work restoring wetlands on a grand scale, right now. Jobs, environmental restoration, and reduced risk -- this is the kind of shovel-ready project the U.S. needs yesterday.

Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx and a Sojourners contributing editor, is president of the Majora Carter Group, an economic consulting firm.

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