Van Jones and Green For All

Original post: March 29, 2009; repost: February 27, 2010. With Van Jones’ return to the public eye, I thought I’d put this up again.

Spring break is almost over—class starts tomorrow, in fact, on what will most likely be the busiest quarter of my three years at Fuller (following closely on the heels of last quarter, which was the busiest quarter of my three years at Fuller). I’ll be taking four classes (Theology & Culture; Theology, Politics & Modern Society; Culture & Transformation; and Teamwork & Leadership) and working part time as the All-Seminary Council (ASC) Vice-President. I’m excited about this coming quarter, but boy, is it gonna be busy!

Anyway, this past week has been a great one. Notwithstanding the whole not-eating thing (four days to go!), I’ve been able to chill out here and recover from the craziness of the last quarter, watching movies, sleeping, hanging out with friends, napping, and probably most importantly, reading.

Reading is sort of an occupational hazard when you’re a grad student, and one can become jaded towards the whole endeavor of reading when you have to read books for school anyway (and on a timetable to boot). I usually try to be reading at least one non-school book so as to keep me sane, but often this gets squeezed out by the sheer volume of pages I have to digest per week.

So it’s been with great pleasure that I’ve dived back into reading these last few days. Currently, I’m reading Tom Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus, Muhammad Yunus’ Creating a World without Poverty: Social Business and the Nature of Capitalism, and Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

And I just finished The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, by Van Jones, who’s Barack Obama’s new Green Czar, also known as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ). I highly recommend it—the last time I was so struck by a writer’s honesty and inspired by a writer’s vision was when I read Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, and we all know what happened after that. ☺ Anyway, highlights from the book:

our entire economy was designed to function in a world where fossil fuels are forever abundant and forever cheap. Today, as those fuels—and especially oil—become increasingly scarce, prices are rising to reflect that reality. (2)

The United States is the world’s biggest polluter. To avoid eco-apocalypse [both environmental and economic collapse], Congress will have to do more than pass a cap-and-trade bill. And Americans will have to do more than stick in better lightbulbs. To pull off this ecological U-turn, we will have to fundamentally restructure the U.S. economy. We will need to “green” whole cities. We will have to build thousands of wind farms, install tens of millions of solar panels, and retrofit millions of buildings. We will have to retire our car, truck, and bus fleets, which are based on combustion engines and oil, and replace them with plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles powered by a clean-energy grid. (58)

“History teaches us that it is impossible to guide a complex series of deep changes in culture, economics, and law without first grounding efforts in a set of unchanging ideals,” (65) and Jones puts forward the three principles of

  1. equal protection for all: “there are some dangers that are too big for any individual to overcome, especially the most vulnerable among us. So in an age of floods, we must reject any philosophy that would tempt us to tell people in wheelchairs to ‘sink or swim.’ We must embrace, instead, the principle that says: ‘We are all in this together—come what may’” (70).
  2. equal opportunity for all: “We are one human family. So on a good day, we should not leave anyone out. And on a bad day, we should not leave anyone behind. We should not accept a world where people of color and low-income people are always first in line for everything bad and then are left to benefit last and least when it comes to anything good” (73).
  3. reverence for all creation: “we don’t have any throwaway species or resources. We don’t have any throwaway children, throwaway neighborhoods, or throwaway nations either. Therefore, the green economy must do more than reclaim thrown-away stuff. It must also reclaim thrown-away lives and thrown-away places. And it must reclaim the thrown-away values that insist we are all members of one human family, with sacred obligations to each other” (74).

He advocates what he calls Noah principles (as in Noah from the Bible; but go read the book for more) in creating the kind of politics through which we can get things done:

  1. Fewer “issues,” more solutions; that is, focusing on the things that we are working towards rather than focusing on the things we are against.
  2. Fewer “demands,” more goals: “Goals can be shared—even by people who disagree on many points. Demands can never be shared. One party makes them; the other party must either deny them or capitulate” (107).
  3. Fewer “targets,” more partners: “In this age, our main job is to seek out friends wherever we can, not just to defeat enemies” (109).
  4. Less “accusation,” more confession: “We would be better off confessing our own weaknesses, our fears, our needs. Doing so will let others see the gaps more quickly, find their rightful places around the growing circle—and come to the campfire with fewer pretenses themselves” (111).
  5. Less “cheap patriotism,” more deep patriotism: “Some of us still believe in ‘a more perfect union’—and in making it more perfect every day. Some of us still believe in ‘America the beautiful’—and in defending its beauty from the clear-cutters and despoilers. Some of us still believe in ‘one nation, indivisible’—and in opposing those who profit by keeping us needlessly divided. Some of us still believe in ‘liberty and justice for all,’ and we won’t stop until that classroom pledge is honored from shore to shore” (113).

Van makes the point, well-known by many now, that though the United States makes up only about 4% of the world’s population, we emit 25% of greenhouse gases (not good), and are home to 25% of the world’s incarcerated population (also not good). It is clear that something must be done, and something can be done. Once again, this is not situation where we sit helpless and hopeless as the economy collapses and the environment deteriorates—things can be done to change things, but once again, a grassroots movement made of individual citizens, businesses, organizations, non-profits, and governments will be the driving force for change. It will require change on all levels, from recycling, reusing, and being more environmentally friendly to contributing to green job training, retrofitting and weatherizing buildings, and setting up a clean energy grid that will lay the groundwork for the next generation.

Such a green economy will be as expansive and enveloping (in a good way) as the current economy (in a bad way), comprising all five of the major subsystems of sustainability: energy, food, waste, water, and transportation. And already, the grassroots movement is beginning: people, organizations, businesses, and governments are all getting involved. Moreover, we have a ‘Green President,’ as Jones describes him, in the White House: in Barack Obama’s budget for the current year, there is a clear recognition that the way forward is to invest in the present and the future of renewable clean energies and climate-friendly jobs; see here for the White House fact sheet.

And go check out Green For All, the organization founded by Jones.

Yes, we can. Again.

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