Monday, May 3, 2010

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems by Van Jones

If one comes to this volume, The Green Collar Economy, looking for a discussion of macro-economic and political issues associated with a failing economy and a ravaged environment, they would not be disappointed. Excellent introductions to these issues are presented by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and by the author. However, those are not the main focus of Mr. Jones. He approaches these issues not as a politician or an academic, but as a social activist. In his own words:

"We want to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. We want to create green pathways out of poverty and into great careers for America’s children. We want this green wave to lift all boats."

Most of the book is devoted to demonstrating that the author’s goal can be reached and to laying out the path that should be followed to get there.

He begins by delivering a thrashing to traditional environmental activism. He describes the first wave of environmentalism as one of conservation in which the rights of the native population were trampled on:

"National parks and wilderness areas were set aside for the benefit of white American tourists.....the conservationists stood up for the most vulnerable places—but not always for the most vulnerable people."

The second wave he refers to as that of regulation.

"The movement to better regulate industrial society was, in its origins, almost entirely the purview of the affluent and white. As a result it failed to see the toxic pollution that was concentrating n communities of poor and brown-skinned people, even after major environmental laws were passed. In fact, some people of color began to wonder if white polluters and white environmentalists were unconsciously collaborating."

These concerns led to the development of a parallel movement focused on environmental justice.

"Since the 1980’s the United States has had a shameful secret: its environmental movement is almost explicitly segregated by race—the mainstream environmentalists are in one camp (mostly white), and the environmental justice advocates in another (made up almost entirely of people of color)."

Mr. Jones’ hope is that the third wave, the green wave, will be focused on all the population.

"The green sector needs to break out of its elite niche and succeed on a broad scale economically. If the green economy remains a niche market, even a large one, then the excluded 80% will inevitably, and perhaps unknowingly, undo all the positive ecological impacts of the green 20%."

This argument drives the structure of the remainder of the book. He discusses how to form a coalition of interests to drive for a "Green New Deal." He points out that many initiatives are already in place demonstrating the potential for energy savings and job creation, but that only the government can scale these types of activities up to the level needed to address our problems. He also points out that it is necessary to have the business community as an active and an enthusiastic partner. "Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet the needs." Jones provides a detailed and convincing game plan for the next (current) president to use in implementing a green revolution. The most compelling sections are those in which he describes the large number of jobs requiring only a minimal amount of training that can be created and pay a living wage. These were the types of jobs that allowed blue collar workers to send their children to college in the decades after WWII. Jones would like to see that dynamic reproduced here. His warning is that "positive government action is required to steer jobs and investments to areas where they are needed." It is not surprising, given his background and interests that Van Jones was appointed by the Obama administration as "Special Advisor on Green Jobs for the Council on Environmental Quality (He has since resigned that role)."

It was pleasant to encounter a treatise so positive and hopeful. The author threw out a particularly pleasing quote which he vaguely ascribed to the thinking of the native American Indians:

"We don’t inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children. The earth doesn’t belong to us; we belong to the earth."


  1. What are your thoughts on CSR? Do you think that companies are going green or being socially responsible for pure purposes or does it make a difference?

  2. I think the problem with companies is not whether their thoughts are pure or not, but whether they think long term or short term. Long-term thinking will lead to the conclusion that they need a healthy society to ensure their own future. Just let them follow the money with that in mind and we will do fine. the government can provide incentives if necessary to get things started.


Lets Talk Books And Politics - Blogged