SACRAMENTO -- Today's green movement involves so much more than tree-huggers and global-warming fear-mongers, economic experts said Thursday at the Great Valley Center's 11th annual conference subtitled "Green Momentum."
For those tuned into a building surge toward renewable energy and energy efficiency, "green" represents what you put in your wallet, several speakers repeatedly said.
"There is no question now that green is becoming big business," said Ian Kim of Oakland's Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Shifting lifestyle choices, from preferences for hybrid cars to organic tomatoes, account for about $200 billion in the U.S. economy, Kim said.
"Conscious consumerism is rapidly moving (green attitudes) from the fringes to the center of the market," he said.
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Abundant sunshine, wind, rich farmland and an underused work force could help position the valley to take advantage of the emerging green economy, several speakers said.
Keith Griffith of the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance said a surge in demand for solar panels will produce 16,000 installation jobs by 2014.
"These jobs can't be off-shored," Griffith said. "Nobody in China is going to fly in in the morning, install these panels and catch a plane to fly home in the evening."
The same goes for wind energy technicians, he said, noting that advances have rendered obsolete almost all of the thousands of windmills dotting the Altamont Pass. New windmills could power a valley-to-Oakland short-haul rail line envisioned by the developer of a proposed mammoth industrial park around the former naval air base at Crows Landing, Griffith said.
His organization seeks to remove the Northern San Joaquin Valley's greatest impediment to new living-wage jobs: not enough trained, drug-free workers. Bright young people often leave the valley for better jobs, including his children, he said.
"Let's face it; the valley is California's Appalachia," Griffith said. "This is where two worlds collide -- some of the richest land, some of the poorest people."
Mayra Chavez, 20, of Delano told The Bee she chose to attend the University of California at Merced over UC Irvine partly because she bristles when "people talk crap about the valley."
The political science major became one of Merced's first students as a freshman when the valley campus opened in 2005, is now a junior and has never looked back.
"I'm not leaving" the area upon graduation next year, Chavez said.
This week's conference, bringing together policy-makers, activists and nonprofit leaders from Redding to Bakersfield, "reminds you there is a reason to continue to fight to make the valley better," she said.
Jon Stallman of California State University, Chico, has started sustainability training for students there and at Butte College, but acknowledged tremendous hurdles in convincing administrators to dedicate precious funding for avant-garde ideas.
Hundreds of conference attendees sported rings around their necks made of green construction paper, signifying "green- collar jobs."
They gave a standing ovation Thursday to Great Valley Center President Emeritus Carol Whiteside as she received the group's highest honor, the Sequoia Giant of the Valley award. Whiteside, a former Modesto mayor and member of Gov. Wilson's administration, founded the think tank in Modesto 11 years ago and retired in February.
"I have built an army of people who care about the valley so that 30 years from now, we can say it's better because of the work that we did," she said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.