A Green Wave Shall Lift All Boats, Says Van Jones

The number one green-collar jobs leader is optimistic that climate solutions can benefit the working poor.
This post is part of the research project: Economic Turnaround

Will the burgeoning “green” economy have a place in it for everyone? To a packed auditorium in Seattle on Wednesday, Van Jones said: Yes, it can. And to be successful, he says, it has to.

In the chorus of voices talking about fighting climate change, his message rings true and clear: “We have a chance to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done.”

Van Jones is a civil-rights lawyer and founder and executive director of an innovative nonprofit working to ensure that low-income, working poor, and minority youth have access to the coming wave of “green-collar” jobs. Jones—brought to Seattle by Climate Solutions , King County, El Centro de la Raza, Puget Sound Sage, and Earth Ministry—made a compelling case that social justice is the moral anchor that’s required to fuse the climate movement into a powerful and cohesive force.He sees that the solutions to global warming are the solutions to the biggest social and economic problems in urban and rural America.

Basically, his point is this: You can pass all the climate legislation you want but you have to provide the local workforce to make it happen on the ground. “We have to retrofit a nation,” he says. “No magical green fairies are going to come down and put up all those solar panels.” This is going to take skilled labor. “We can make a green pathway out of poverty.”

And it gets better, he says. These jobs can’t be outsourced. “You can’t put a building on a barge to Asia and weatherize it on the cheap.” This is about kitchen table issues: jobs, industry, manufacturing, health, education.

The climate movement needs Van Jones—or rather it needs a moral anchor—and it just so happens that Van Jones is someone who can define that anchor (it helps that he is a brilliant speaker, knowing just how to make his audience laugh, then cry, then shout “yeah!”).

And this seems to be Van Jones’ moment in history. He has the ear of every 2008 Democratic presidential contender as well as top policy-makers like Nancy Pelosi. He’s all over the national climatescene. He just launched an initiative called Green for All that’s getting lots of attention. And charisma aside, his words are lent extra gravity by the fact that he is 39—the age of Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was killed—and that he was born the same year MLK and Bobby Kennedy were shot. He doesn’t try to pass himself off as some sort of resurrection, but he builds on the emotional strength and moral certitude of the Civil Rights movement to make his case. And Americans—environmentalists, social justice activists, and many others—are hungry for this message. Americans are hungry for an articulation of the moral core within the climate issue, an issue that is complex, abstract, and championed by many disparate groups and individuals.

On the need to unify, Jones reminds us that when the Vietnam War broke out, Dr. King told advisers who counseled him not to meddle in President Johnson’s foreign policy: “I have worked too long against segregation in society to segregate my moral conscience.”

So, Jones says we have to ask ourselves a question: Who are we going to be? Before we even ask what we’re going to do. Who are we going to be? “Are we going to be people who segregate our moral conscience and find some way to narrow down the issue and make it fit? Or are we going to be people who stand on principle?” He suggests that the principles that drove the Civil Rights movement are just as valid today as they were then: equal protection, equal opportunity, and equal partnership.

In a post-Katrina world, the principles that guided civil rights leaders can guide our thinking about how to build fairness and responsibility into climate policy. “I think the time has come to say in this country that in the age of floods, in the age of ecological peril, we reject any ideology, any philosophy that says let our neighbors sink or swim,” Jones said on Wednesday. “We stand on the idea that we are all in this together. We are all in this together.”

As far as opportunity and partnership goes, Jones points to the galloping green economy, but asks: “Are we going to have eco-apartheid? Are we going to settle for that? Are we going to have a society divided between ecological-haves and ecological-have nots?” The green economy is growing, but it’s the most segregated part of the US economy. Jones asks: “We’ve worked for 200 years to integrate a poison and pollution based economy; what can we do to ensure the green economy has a place in it for everybody?”

Jones himself is somewhat of an anomaly in a world defined by identity politics and “issue boxes”: “Black and green,” he’s often called, an African American who’s deeply concerned about the environment (read an interview with Grist here and his blog on Huffington Post here). He jokes that people ask him what a nice black man like himself is doing with a bunch of environmentalists. But he challenges everybody to defy the false choice between caring about people and caring about the environment:

It’s time for us to say that we represent a new sentiment in this country that says ‘no, we don’t have any throw away resources. We don’t have a throw away species. We don’t have any throw away children. No. It’s all sacred. It’s all sacred.’

Jones believes that the bread-and-butter issues and the core values shared by Americans can solidify the momentum for a shift to green thinking. Moreover, he deeply believes—and if you heard him, you’d believe, too—that that if we work together toward a clean, green economy that insists on a place for everyone— “we not only get the coalition we’ve always wanted, we get the country we’ve always wanted.”

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  1. Morgan Ahouse says:

    The evening was most excellent, and you captured most of the key points I recall.I’m still left wondering how this shift will spread.Whom must we convince to support Van’s vision of the green pathway out of poverty? And how will we convince them to dedicate the resources?

  2. Artie Caton says:

    I love you people! I thank God that I found your site. Please, do me a favor? With all my heart I truly believe that this Man, – X Marine is another part of going Green. I wont tell you about him, I will just give you hiw web site and let you see for yourself.Shepherdschapel.com.When you get to this page, click on Broadband to the left. On the next page, click on “Windows Media” or “Realplayer”, whichever software choice you desire. As a computer Tech for 25 years, I recomend Windows Media player unless you use a Mac.NEXT:I have sent e-mails to NBC, WKTV, and MSNBC. I told them to start using their heads for a change and stop living in short-term mode. We all were taught about the need to care for our TREES in the sixth-grade Science classes in grammer school for Gods Sake. 1. If we can get these white collars to pass a law to stop all the Junk-Mail deliveries, that would save about 1000 trees a day. 2. If we can get them to stop making all these plastics, especially now that the Doctors have proof of fatal chemical consumtion, along with fetal damage and presents of the chemicals in the Cord and After birth.3. Now that we know how to recycle, we could even STOP making plastic shopping bags and use recycled paper-type bags that aren’t even made from paper now.4. And now for the BIGGEST ONE of all! We now know that we can produce a large amount of ENERGY by putting the effort and money into using all our COW-PIE (poop) to produce ENERGY and also FURTILIZER without having any waste left at all… Good God, the Lord has given us so many natural tools to work with but we just keep destroying our world more each day because all the million doller white collars just think about their bank accounts and say “hell, I won’t be around when it needs to be cleaned up”, so no need to worry!I was -am a fireman for 10 years until I broke my spine. After 7 spine operations I managed to function on 4arm crutches for 20 years. During that time, I went back to college and satisfied the Gov. with a piece of paper to be able to get an account to build computers for all handicaps in Utica, NY and the surrounding counties. I have been building them for 25 years. I am now on 7 bottles of Morphine, and two bottles of opium and 12 other medications each month. I now need to live in electric wheel-chair. People, I Truly Love what you stand for. I also know that our Lord does also. I would be honored if someone would PLEASE??? ask Van to e-mail me after you get him to read this Please?As we learn more about our Lord and what he expects from his children, it then puts responsibilities onto the sholders of his children to do his will. So, please let me clue you in on one thing about him.In the book of ISAIAH, our Father tells us, and I quote—- REMIND ME of the PROMISES I MADE YOU. He loves for us to just talk to him and ask for his help besides being in prayer. So, please people, next time you sit down for coffee break, be sure that you ask our Father to join you, and ask him to help us (you), to reach that Million Dollar goal. Because of all the LOVING GOOD YOU ARE DOING, IT SHALL BE UNTO YOU!AMEN!Artie Caton 2 Kennedy Plaza Apt. 307 Utica, NY 13502 315-735-7872 [email protected] CenterStage Computer Designs

  3. Artie Caton says:

    One more point of importance. Is it possible that the Chernobyl accident along with all those 55 gallon drums of nuclear waste that Russia dumped into the Ocean, which by the way are now leaking, one of the causes of the ICE CAPS MELTING maybe? Chernobyl grows 1/4 mile each year to leave a big part of their country a wasteland that CANNOT EVER be inhabited by Humans again. So, if their nuclear waste has been growing 1/4 mile each year sense it happened, how much are the leaks growing that are deposited into our Ocean’s WATER Van?Artie in Utica

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