Carol Zabin, founder of UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Green Economy Program, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Energy Commission, or CEC, as part of its 2022 Clean Energy Hall of Fame Awards.
The third annual award ceremony on Dec. 8 recognized six leaders for their work helping California achieve a clean energy future. The Lifetime Achievement Award is given to those with 20 or more years of leadership in the clean energy field.
Zabin was given the award for her work advising policymakers about climate investments and about transitioning former fossil fuel workers to the clean energy sector, according to a CEC press release. The CEC received over 240 nominations across the six award categories, with over 50 in the Lifetime Achievement category, according to an email from Noemí Gallardo, Chief of Staff for CEC Chair David Hochschild.
“She dedicated her career to helping California policymakers recognize that workers and their unions are vital in the transition to a low-carbon future and that climate investments are more effective when they include labor standards and support businesses with good labor practices,” the press release reads.
Zabin said her work has been guided by her beliefs that climate policy affects jobs and that the state has a low-wage job problem. She noted that she has contributed to shaping the way climate policy has been and continues to be implemented.
According to Zabin, she has helped policymakers understand they must take workers into account when enacting climate legislation and ensure they make jobs available in the clean energy sector.
“If we just let the market determine what kinds of jobs are created there’s a real danger that we’re just going to perpetuate low-wage jobs,” Zabin said. “If you leave workers who have a voice behind they’re going to push back because unless they see a future in the clean low carbon economy, there are many good jobs in the old energy economy.”
She said the labor movement and unions are “fundamental” aspects of democracy. Because of her academic background in labor and economics, she emphasizes the importance of union and low-wage workers being included in discussions regarding the climate crisis.
Zabin said she was very appreciative of the award and her day with the other recipients at the award ceremony in Sacramento, calling the time they spent together “sweet” and “celebratory” of their climate efforts.
She noted that she comes from a different sector of climate activism than is typically recognized by the CEC.
“I do want to commend the Energy Commission for recognizing me because usually it’s so easy for them to recognize people who really grew up in their main movement, and I grew up more in the labor movement,” Zabin said. “Obviously the climate crisis is affecting all of us, and I was just seeing a real danger in not addressing the jobs issue.”