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« It's beginning to seem a lot like Christmas | Main | America's MVPs (Most Valuable People) »

The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones

By Shari L. Wilson
December 16, 2008

It's been a long time since I actually sat down and read a book. Not the newspaper, not a magazine, not because I had to--but an actual book, cover to cover. What book kept my attention long enough to ignore potential distractions? (It helps to turn off the tv.) It was The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones.

Jones, a community activist in Oakland, CA, is working to build a Green Growth Alliance based on a clean energy economy. As he points out, the jobs needed in the new economy will not all require a four-year college education. President-elect Obama has been talking in similar tones about his priorities once in office. So how do we get there? Are we ready and willing to focus on low income and people of color communities?

I've been seeing a lot of Van Jones lately, on Morning Joe twice in the past month, in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, on video (a search on YouTube brings up 2,810 results), and find him intriguing. A Yale graduate and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, he founded Green for All to focus his efforts to "invent and invest" our way to a new economy that can increase our energy security while providing jobs to all income levels, particularly to people of low income and people of color. A significant number of jobs could put people to work who were left out of the Silicon Valley jobs bubble. With training and determination, residents of low income communities could fulfill jobs such as retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy efficient, growing local food, building and installing solar panels and wind turbines. These jobs are critical to reducing the amount of oil America consumes and are jobs that could pay enough to raise a family.

Jones makes a convincing argument and has some interesting things to say about the role of government in creating an inclusive, green economy. One idea I haven't heard from anyone else is the creation of the Clean Energy Corps. This group would focus on cities and rural areas, and would combine service, training, and employment efforts. The Clean Energy Corps would upgrade infrastructure; retrofit homes, schools, small businesses to be more energy efficient; and preserve and enlarge public green spaces, among other things. It would be paid for through energy savings. A related program, Civic Justice Corps, would help people returning from prison to train for green jobs. Based on a successful model from Oakland, the Green Collar Jobs Campaign, it combines classroom and on-the-job training, wraparound support, and internships. It also creates Green Business Councils at the local level to encourage employers and provide incentives to hire the corps members.

One of the most interesting parts of Jones' book is his discussion of the historic interaction between environmental organizations and the environmental justice movement. This is a difficult topic, because of long-held perceptions among both groups about the other, and because the two seem to talk past each other while pursuing many of the same goals. Environmental organizations are perceived as elitist and traditionally focused on lobbying and impacting policy at the top, not concerned with the living conditions in low income/people of color communities. These communities are perceived as not being willing to engage in the political system. Racial and cultural dynamics play a role, too. Jones calls for a "critical mass of people" to help cocreate the future economy. Working together from the beginning so that any differences or misunderstandings can be talked out along the way seems to me the best way to bridge this divide.

What I like the most about Jones' book and the green economy direction in general is that it's a can-do approach. Americans are smart enough to figure out the technology necessary to bring us to a cleaner energy future, and how to best phase it in. We are capable of including those most in need of jobs in this new green economy. We can change our habits and priorities to reduce our energy use, thereby saving money and having a healthier indoor and outdoor environment. It's time to shed the past few years of fear and negativity, and get out there and take hold of -- own -- our future. Check out Van Jones' book -- it's definitely food for thought.

Thanks for reading my blog. My views are totally my own, not those of my employer or any other organization. I welcome your comments.

Comments (2)

Nora Thomason Author Profile Page:

Great post, Shari. Welcome to You have some unique experience working in the environmental world and our readers will surely be enriched by your contributions about that - and other things. Welcome!

Nora Thomason

Jerry Jacobs Author Profile Page:


I've been hearing more about Van Jones also. Does he have Barack's ear? Barack has emphasized green jobs from the beginning (as have Al Gore and Hillary Clinton). In fact, green jobs and "infrastructure" jobs seem to be the primary "jobs creation" methods that are being discussed. I do have faith in it and its potential, but I hope our politicians can see beyond just his because I'm not sure that green jobs and infrastructure jobs will provide enough grist for the mill of our economy. Will they be self-sustaining? Will they be geographically diverse? Will they be income diverse? What about the people who do have college degrees or aspire beyond physical labor? What will those people do? I just hope our politicians are thinking beyond the financial industry, the auto industry and the green industry - and remember that most Americans won't have jobs in these sectors.

BTW, welcome to EverydayCitizen. I don't write here but I'm an avid daily reader here. You make a great addition. Welcome. I look forward of your blogs!


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