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

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

On the evening of Tuesday the 21st of October, I trekked into Philly to hear Van Jones, environmental and economic hero, give an address publicizing his new book. Pioneering the cause of Green Collar jobs, he is the founder and president of Green for All and also a fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The auditorium at Drexel was absolutely full, with professors, students, business and community leaders in attendance. One of the event coordinators exclaimed that they had received over five hundred RSVPs. In fact, since Van’s first involvement with the city eight months ago, excitement about the prospect for change has seen the formation of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and a radical reordering of priorities in City Hall.

Throughout the talk, I wrestled with this question: if our economy privileges the destruction of dignity, equality, health and the environment, then how do you restructure the value system of higher education so that our young people, the transformative force behind this next century, have the background and tools to make a positive impact? I report his speech as follows, including italics to convey statements spoken with particular emphasis.

“First of all, no one publishes a book during election cycles – no one. There’s no publicity if your name’s not Barack Obama. But the book made it. Never in the history of North American letters has there been an African American environmentalist on the best seller list of the NY times. Never before. None. It became a cause. In a four day period, we went from 3,000 copies sold on Amazon to #12 on the NY times list. It shows the power of Social networks, but also it is an indicator of the desire for Change. It is a source for HOPE.

We’ve been laboring under a false dilemma; choose one: save the economy for our children or rescue the world for our grandchildren. This is a false choice! If we have the climate and the economy to fix, we can solve both! Now; the sun (solar, wind), moon (tides), and earth (geothermal) are eternal. We have an inexhaustible supply of renewable energy at our disposal. But more importantly, we need to address efficiency. Drafty buildings equals broke, chilly people. We don’t need fantastic firepower to escape this crisis -Weatherize and retrofit – use caulk guns! It’s time to again recognize the dignity of skilled labor; you shouldn’t have to go to Harvard to be considered a successful, contributing person in our society. Take energy efficiency consultation jobs as a point of entry for our unemployed, unskilled labor and we can save millions of dollars.

Now it’s important to throw out the original definition of environmental justice – equal protection from the worst of the toxics: incinerators, power plants, landfills. We talk about equality, but if it were as easy to put a toxic dump in a neighborhood where white rich people live, we would have had a green economy ages ago. So it comes down to questions of race and class. What we need to do is offer equal opportunity to pioneering the solutions to our crisis. We can’t afford another situation like the digital divide. We’ve been fighting since the 90’s, and all we’ve gotten are some recycled pc’s. In retrospect, Dr. King put his life on the line to fight to integrate an economy that was undermining the health of the world. If we put out thousand’s of contracts, let’s do it right this time. How morally compelling is the rebuilding of the green economy?!

So the most common argument against green energy is that it costs too much money; we’re broke. And plus, oil prices are going down. Look, George W. just broke the world economy, of course the prices are going down! But there will be a permanent price rise! We’re not broke yet, you’re gonna be broke! Just imagine the shouting match with China over scarce oil resources. We’ll have more oil wars all over the world. And besides, the scariest stuff on TV is the Weather Channel. Don’t let your kids watch the Weather Channel. There’s tornados walking down main street in Atlanta, monster hurricanes in the South, a twelve months fire season in California, and the flooding of the breadbasket in Iowa.

Right now, the government is still on the wrong side – consider the Big Oil triple subsidy. First off, we hand Oil Giants billions of dollars in ordinary subsidies, then the Pentagon pours trillions into energy security, and then corporations get free rights to pollute – without taking in the cost to the environment or human lives! The cost of participating in the economy is artificially low. Stop paying the polluters and allow market signals to work in our favor. Right now the rules are wacky. When you say “we need to drill alaska, so that we can control energy,” what ‘we’ are you talking about? You and Chevron? These are multinational corporations! They will sell it all to the highest bidder. The way to change this is to Vote, Vote, Vote!

So you ask me how we can fix the economy? The minute we open the manufacturing of renewable energy sources, we can put Detroit and the rest of the nation back to work. There are 8,000 finely machined parts in a wind-power turbine. We’re not talking about your mom’s paper windmill – this is a turbine! And there’s still the current energy distribution problem – concentrated clean power sources like the sunbelt, tidal areas and windiest parts of the country are far from the population centers. Build a national grid!

We’ve already done this before. The two giant economic booms of the past century were the results of creating our concrete highways following WWII, allowing the flow of goods, and following the construction and IT super highway, allowing the flow of information. Now here’s our challenge: build the superhighway to transmit our green energy.

If we’re going to figure out how to make free energy, it’s going to require a full employment program – small businesses, garage projects, local corporations, and government agencies alike. Build capacity rather than borrow credit. Rely on US creativity!

We can be partners in the fight for our economy and the environment.

Dignity, Power, Peace.”

(Delivered at Drexel University: hosted by the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and the Africana Studies Program at Drexel)

So now that you’ve heard what Van has to say, here’s my challenge: it’s time we became accountable for our college’s political and economic buying power. Let’s work to eliminate energy waste and invest in green power.

Join us at the Fireside Chat on Wednesday the 29th of October in the Kohlberg Coffee Bar to discuss windpower and alternative energy.

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