Mother Earth Living

Bringing Green Home: Van Jones and Green Collar Jobs

An interview with Van Jones, founder of Green For All, an advocacy group for green jobs.
By Wayne E. Mayer
September/October 2008
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Oakland, California-based lawyer Van Jones launched the advocacy group Green For All in 2007.
Photo By Jeremy Harris

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In 2007, Oakland, California-based lawyer Van Jones launched the advocacy group Green For All, which works to create “good jobs, safer streets and healthier communities” by linking environmental protection with new jobs. Green For All promotes local, regional and national government initiatives that bring millions of jobs in earth-friendly construction and alternative energy to unemployed residents of cities such as Oakland, reducing both inner-city pollution and poverty.

Jones pushed to get the 2007 Green Jobs Act passed; the Act earmarks $125 million in grants to train young people in eco-friendly trades. Closer to home, Green For All persuaded the Oakland City Council to put $250,000 into the Green Job Corps, which trains underemployed young adults to independently pursue opportunities in the new-energy economy.

What jobs would a “green-collar” worker do?

Creating a low-carbon economy means weatherizing millions of buildings, putting up millions of solar panels and building millions of wind, solar and wave farms so we can create and consume energy without destroying the planet. It is not a small job, but it’s a crucial one.

How can we save polar bears and inner-city kids, too?

The eco-elite love to talk about the big crisis—global warming. Poor people who already deal with a lot of down-to-earth crises don’t want to hear about it. They have parents with cancer and sisters with asthma and no health care. So, we have to change our rhetoric. For people with lots of opportunities, we tell them about the crisis; for people with lots of crisis, we tell them about opportunities.

If we shut down pollution-spewing power plants and shift to renewable energy, what happens? We reduce asthma. The pollution-based economy is expensive. If we reduce asthma, we cut expenses. If one kid with asthma doesn’t have health care, it costs the family about $10,000 a year in inhalers, lost wages and ER visits. That means if you clean up the air with renewable energy, you put $10,000 per kid per year back into the pockets of poor people.

How is global warming connected to safer inner-city streets?

A lot of people are engaged in the underground economy—selling drugs, stealing, selling stolen goods—but nobody does very well for very long. And most of them are not having a very good time. This is not a music video. Trouble is, they don’t know how to get out of that spiral of poverty and violence. If we reach out to people, especially when they are young, and offer them green pathways out of poverty, we can break that cycle. The green economy will create a net increase in jobs. If we connect at-risk youth with mentors, training and green-collar jobs, we can reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and inner-city violence.

If you were the U.S. president,what would your clean-energypolicy look like? 

We need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on education to train people for the green-collar jobs of the 21st century. To move into a low-carbon economy means a lot of people doing a lot of work. And that means training people to do the jobs that make our country and our planet healthier, wealthier and more sustainable. 

Beyond education, we need to re-invent the Civilian Conservation Corps that Franklin Roosevelt created. Only, we need to retool it to focus on today’s environmental challenges

Van's favorite things

■ Supporting People’s Grocery and Green Worker Cooperatives, which create jobs in the green economy.  

■ My hourglass shower timer, which helps me save time and water.

■ Donating to Solar Richmond, which helps low-income people become solar-panel installers.

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