The Legacy Van Jones Should Be Known For

            Van Jones begins his book The Green Collar Economy discussing the concept of stagflation – that economic nightmare where the price of energy rises while jobs decrease. As the book was released over a year ago, the premise almost stands as prophetic as August brought another loss of American jobs and increase in gas prices. And though the concept seems dire, Jones goes on to outline the many prospects that America faces should we decide to seek out new avenues of sustainability.

            I was first introduced to Van Jones through an extremely articulate interview in the Utne Reader in which the civil rights leader proposed that one of the greatest ways to push the Green movement into the viable mainstream was to educate the lower class population how it can help them. When one is worried about how he’s going to pay the rent, the plight of the polar bear doesn’t really leave much of an impression. However, when you make that person understand that fighting global warming will create a better paying job for him, he is much more likely to get on board.

            And that, in essence, is what The Green Collar Economy is about – realizing the possibilities of bolstering our economy by taking care of our planet, our community, and our health. Currently, our society is based in what Jones calls a Grey Economy – a system based on deriving energy from non-renewable, quickly depleting resources that create greenhouse gasses and pollute our environment and our health. The subtitle, “How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems,” refers to how transferring our energy production to renewable resources like solar, water, and wind can revolutionize the jobs market and help to clean up our environment.

            The introduction to the book defines “green collar job” in three parts. First, it is blue collar employment that has been upgraded to better respect the environment. Second, it is family friendly, career track, vocational or trade level employment in environmentally friendly fields. Examples of green collar jobs are electricians who install solar panels; plumbers who install solar water heaters; farmers engaged in organic agriculture and some bio-fuel production; and construction workers who build energy efficient green buildings, wind power farms, solar farms, and wave energy farms.

            Jones discusses the first two waves of environmentalism, conservation and regulation, while paving the way for the third wave, investment – investing in our community, our resources, and our future. Should a fraction of the ideas espoused in Jones’ book be made manifest, the investment would indeed have a grand payoff. By making the investment in the inevitable shift to renewable resources now, it will provide new jobs for those who will have to create the infrastructure and release us from scrambling around when oil reaches its last few drops.

            In making this shift toward a more sustainable future, Jones is careful to point out the importance of avoiding the current schism of eco-apartheid for a more balanced eco-equity. By this, he means that currently, the rich can afford to eat organic foods, add solar panels to their roofs, and drive hybrid cars while the poor eat what fits their budget, live in houses that leak energy, and guzzle gas because it’s all that’s available to them. By creating a system of eco-equity, all members of society will have access to a sustainable future because all members will take part in creating it. Jones defines eco-equity as “equal protection and equal opportunity in an economy that respects the Earth.”

            Jones suggests a Green New Deal whereby government would act as a sort of midwife whereby this new economy can be implemented, but does not opt for the bureaucratic governmental control that many have recently accused him of. Instead, he sees the government as a partner with Labor groups, social justice activists, environmentalists, students, and even faith organizations that would come together realizing their shared goals and unique contributions to the greater good.

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