Green jobs will clean up the economy, communities

Attorney Van Jones pushes for a green "New Deal" to revitalize the economy, the environment, and underserved communities.

Van Jones can command a stage. Whispering about pollution in poor neighborhoods, he might bring an audience close to tears. Then he'll pack the next thought with a wicked grin, rocking the room with laughter.

"This is the PowerPoint presentation Al Gore would do if he were black," Jones told several thousand people at the Bioneers conference last month.

The Yale-trained attorney from Tennessee has campaigned against police brutality and youth imprisonment with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights he co-founded 11 years ago in Oakland, Calif. But his recent push to create a "green-collar" job corps has catapulted Jones to the national stage.

Jones hopes low-income, minority communities will be able to share in the potential fortunes of the emerging clean-tech economy. He's asking the government to help groom people in the hands-on tasks of greening the nation's buildings and outfitting its blighted zones with renewable energy technologies.

Jones pushed for the creation of the Oakland Green Job Corps, which will take $250,000 from California's settlement from the 2001 energy crisis to train several dozen underprivileged workers.

Jones also campaigned for the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which Congress recently passed as part of a massive energy bill. The plan earmarks $25 million to train low-income workers in these so-called green-collar jobs. Now he wants Washington to fund $1 billion in green jobs training. And he's on the board of the Apollo Alliance, which is calling for the creation of 3 million clean-tech jobs by 2015.

The first industrial revolution hurt people and the planet. The second industrial revolution should help the planet and people, too.

Jones recently spoke with CNET about how the clean-tech industry could boost the economy, cut pollution, and restore inner city communities.

Q: What does social justice have to do with green technology, and why should people involved in the clean-tech industry pay attention?
Jones: Fundamentally, we spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in the last century trying to integrate solutions for a poison-based economy. Now we're using clean tech to birth a clean and green economy, and I think we should do everything we can to ensure that the green economy has a place for everybody.

When you're talking about bringing new technologies into the world you're talking about new products, new services, new enterprises, new industries. That means new opportunities for job and wealth creation. We need to be very sure we are not replicating the mistakes from the dot-com days when we set ourselves up for a digital divide. We should work very hard to avoid having an ecodivide where we have ecological haves and ecological have-nots.

For instance, when you think about the solar industry, there are opportunities for low-income people and people of color to be involved--from installing the panels on someone's rooftop all the way through being trained to become the inventors of the next leap forward in photovoltaics. We have to make sure we pay attention to those opportunities.

One reason that's really important is that it's very rare that you get a chance to rethink the economy, and that's what's going to happen. The first industrial revolution hurt people and the planet. The second industrial revolution should help the planet and people, too.

How can the Green Jobs Act that has been approved by Congress help to achieve that or get the ball rolling?
Jones: The Green Jobs Act 2007 is just the first step, a small down payment on a much bigger vision. If the president signs it, he'll put enough money to train 35,000 people across the country in green trades. That's very important.

There have got to be people trained to do that work. You have to make sure we have a world-class, green-collar workforce to help our business community meet a world-class challenge. The business community deserves a world-class workforce. The government should be working to put people in the front of the line for the new century's green jobs.

Featured Video

Why do so many of us still buy cars with off-road abilities?

Cities are full of cars like the Subaru XV that can drive off-road but will never see any challenging terrain. What drives us to buy cars with these abilities when we don't really need them most of the time?

by Drew Stearne