the-green-collar-economy-van-jones.thumbnail.jpgVan Jones, influential environmental activist and President of the Oakland-based non-profit Green For All, recently became the first African-American with a book about the environment to make the New York Times bestseller list. In his debut book, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, Jones dishes candor and offers pragmatic solutions to help the country become more energy efficient and make money.

It is this pragmatism that brings together an unlikely coalition of traditional environmental activists in Marin County, California, and those who hail from inner cities like Oakland, to tackle the world’s two biggest problems: global warming and poverty. Here is an excerpt, which highlights why this book is an important and worthwhile read: 

Bringing people of different races and classes and backgrounds together under a single banner is tougher than it sounds. The affluent have blind spots. The disadvantaged have sore spots. And both pose barriers to cooperation. 

For instance, large and powerful constituencies of white, affluent, and college-educated progressives exist and are active in the United States. They are passionate about the environment, fair trade, economic justice, and global peace. Unfortunately, many do not yet work in concrete with people of color in their own country to pursue this agenda; they champion "alternative economic development strategies" across the globe, but not across town. These people could be great allies in uplifting our inner cities, if they are given encouragement and a clear opportunity to do so.

On the other hand, the truth is that many groups of people of color do not want to work in coalition with majority white organizations and white leaders. Many fear betrayal; others resent chronic white arrogance. Cultural differences and power imbalances create tensions; some organizations are actually committed to a racially exclusivist ideology. Even though such organizations could benefit from additional allies and outside assistance, the very folks who could most benefit from a green opportunity agenda are loath to get involved….

I have been trying to bridge this divide for nearly a decade. And I have learned a few things along the way. What I found is that leaders from impoverished areas like Oakland, California, tended to focus on three areas: social justice, political solutions, and social change. They cared primarily about "the people." They focused their efforts on fixing schools, improving health care, defending civil rights, and reducing the prison population. Their studies centered on "social change" work like lobbying, campaigning, and protesting. They were wary of businesses; instead, they turned to the political system and government to help solve the problems of the community.

The leaders I met from affluent places like Marin County (just north of San Francisco), San Francisco, and Silicon Valley had what seemed to be the opposite approach. Their three focus areas were ecology, business solutions, and inner change. They were champions of the environment who cared primarily about "the planet." They worked to save the rain forests and important species like whales and polar bears. Also, they were usually dedicated to "inner change" work, including meditation and yoga. And they put a great deal of stress on making wise, Earth-honoring consumer choices. In fact, many were either green entrepreneurs or investors in eco-friendly businesses in the first place.

Every effort I made to get the two groups together initially was a disaster–sometimes ending in tears, anger, and slammed doors.

Don’t worry. His book is not bleak. He does incorporate a lot of uplifting anecdotes of various organizations and officials in cities like Oakland, Chicago and Los Angeles creating local green jobs benefiting people from all walks of life — particularly those who considered themselves too poor to become environmental activists. In fact, it is those same people who will launch the new green economy, according to Jones.

Let’s be clear, the main piece of technology in the green economy is a caulk gun. Hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs will be weatherizing and energy-retrofitting every building in the United States. Buildings with leaky windows, ill-fitting doors, poor insulation, and old appliances can gobble up 30 percent more energy. That means owners are paying 30 percent more on their heating bills. And it often means that 30 percent more coal-fired carbon is going into the atmosphere. Drafty buildings create broke, chilly people–and an overheated planet.

Another bit of high-tech green technology is the clipboard. That tool is used by energy auditors as they point out energy-saving opportunities to homeowners and renters. This job does not require much training and can be an early entry point into the booming world of energy consultation and efficiency. And one consultation can save an owner hundreds-or even thousands-of dollars annually.

Other green-collar workers can then follow up with other tasks for building owners: wrapping hot-water heaters with blankets, blowing insulation, plugging holes, repairing cracks, hauling out old appliances, replacing old windows with the double-glazed kind. Other pieces of green tech are ladders, wrenches, hammers, tool belts, and nonslip work boots. Those are the space-age gadgets used by solar-panel installers every day.

The point is this. When you think about the emerging green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines. Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.  

The only barrier to launch the new green economy is a lack of trained workers – and willpower on our part, said Jones.

I am pleased to announce that Van Jones will join us this Saturday at 5 p.m. to discuss his new book and ways each of us can help launch this green revolution. Please join us for this important conversation!