by Kimberley D. Mok, Montreal, Canada on 10. 7.08
Van Jones is one busy man. Based in Oakland, CA, the civil rights and environmental activist has been working tirelessly for the last decade and a half – first as the co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, then Color of Change – two social justice organizations striving to give positive alternatives and a political voice to vulnerable communities. Most recently, Jones is the founder of Green For All, a national initiative committed to creating “green pathways out of poverty” and advocating “green-collar jobs for all.”
His latest book, The Green Collar Economy, comes out today and discusses the social, economic and political implications of the “green-collar job” (a term that’s being bandied around a lot nowadays). Jones defines a green-collar job as a “family-supporting, career-track job that directly contributes to preserving or enhancing environmental quality,” but is also part of what he calls the “one solution [to] fix our two biggest problems” – namely, poverty and our environmental crisis. You may ask: what does environmentalism have to do with alleviating poverty?
Stronger support from government & more investment
Besides the urgency of motivating wider public participation, Jones outlines the important roles that government, entrepreneurship and investment will play in building a green economy that will also promote social equality.
“The time has come for the nation to give greater support to the problem solvers—the clean-energy producers, green builders, eco-entrepreneurs, community educators, green-collar workers, and green consumers,” he states. “We have the chance now to create new markets, new technology, new industries, and a new workforce. Let’s do it right—with good wages, equal opportunity, and pathways to success for those whom the pollution-based economy left behind.”
Without a doubt, Jones strikes at the heart of the issue when he speaks of the importance of addressing what he sees as “eco-apartheid” and "eco-elitism" in the environmental movement. Exactly how the diverse issues of race, class, gender and political power are addressed (or not addressed) within any movement will speak volumes about the embedded structures of prejudice and inequality – even with efforts committed to social change.
Akin to the issues brought up by environmental racism, in the case of “eco-apartheid,” Jones clearly illustrates how the mainstream environmental movement has yet to gain solid credibility with working-class and non-affluent Americans. He asks: how are ecological “haves” with their organic food, hybrid cars and concern for saving polar bears not going to alienate ecological “have-nots” – whose primary concerns are local and immediate issues such as pollution, access to services, jobs and feeding their families? Can the environmental movement become more inclusive, building a broad enough coalition to reverse climate change and simultaneously tackle some of the toughest social problems of our time? (Even better question: can it afford not to?!)
Jones is unwaveringly certain that there is no way around this monumental task, but he remains upbeat about it. “The barriers separating us from each other are wafer thin—and largely of our own making,” Jones writes. “We cannot afford that kind of moral shortfall. To solve our global problems, we need to engage and unleash the genius of all people, at all levels of society. Some of the minds that can solve our toughest problems are undoubtedly trapped behind prison bars, stuck behind desks in schools without decent books, or isolated in rural communities. A green economy that is designed to pull them in—as skilled laborers, innovators, inventors, and owners—will be more dynamic, more robust, and better able to save the Earth.”
In The Green Collar Economy, Jones essentially spells out what needs to be spelled out: that the “green” revolution must embrace people of all colors, classes and creeds for it to truly accomplish anything on a meaningful scale. His words and ideas are accessible and powerful; his accounts of everyday people engaged in positive, grassroots action are inspiring, and his timing is impeccable. Definitely a refreshing and rousing read.
You can find an excerpt here.