The new environmentalists wear hard hats

Interview with Van Jones on ‘Earth Day 2.0’

“It’s going to be a different kind of environmentalism. Sleeves rolled up, hard hat, lunch bucket, that’s going to become the image of the environmentalist rather than just our beloved tree huggers.”

A lot has changed in the past 40 years, and so we asked CAP Senior Fellow Van Jones what he thinks about Earth Day this year and what the modern day environmentalist looks like.  His short answer is above.  Here’s more:

Listen to the podcast with Van Jones (mp3)

Now that we’ve become a little more environmentally savvy, Earth Day means some people are going out and buying Priuses and taking eco-friendly vacations. But let’s put this Earth Day in the context of the Great Recession. There are families struggling across the country. What does Earth Day mean for them?

Well, first of all, Earth Day is changing. Earth Day at 40 is very different than Earth Day at 20. I remember Earth Day at 20. I was in college and it was really all about the birds and the bees and that kind of stuff. Now, it’s much more about economic opportunity. The next 40 years of environmental policy will be primarily economic policy as we begin to repower America with cleaner energy.

Solar panels don’t put themselves up. Somebody’s actually got to get a job to put those solar panels up. Wind turbines don’t manufacture themselves. Homes don’t retrofit and weatherize themselves. So everything that is good for the environment is a job. I think we need to be a lot clearer about that, a lot louder and prouder about the fact that what we need to do to repair the “earth” and beat the global recession is the same thing we need repair the environment and beat global warming. It’s actually literally the same type of activity.

So what are some of the smart policies that are out there right now either in play or being proposed that could actually go a long way to what you’re talking about?

I’m most excited about the proposal for HOME STAR, which is so-called Cash for Caulkers, which is about making people’s homes better. Right now people are paying 20, 30, 40 percent too much on their energy bills because we don’t have the right insulation, we don’t have the right windows, we don’t have the new boilers and furnace, but nobody’s got any money to go get all that stuff. And so HOME STAR would actually give some tax credits and some support for ordinary Americans to go and say, “I’m going to invest in my home. I’m going to save on energy.” But that’s also going to stimulate the economy and give somebody a job to come in here and install all that stuff.

What’s so important about energy efficiency””everybody talks about solar panels and that’s the kind of sexy stuff””but these hardworking energy efficiency dollars are the most fiscally conservative and possibly high-impact dollars we can spend in the short-term. So these are the kinds of proposals, I think, that it’s kind of like Earth Day 2.0 moment that we’re in where it’s going to be a different of environmentalism. Sleeves rolled up, hard hat, lunch bucket, that’s going to become the image of the environmentalist rather than just our beloved tree huggers.

You said there are a lot of important debates coming up very soon. How important is it to hear the voices of diverse constituencies and everyday people in these debates around energy policy and legislation?

Well, I think that coming up next week we’re going to see a renewal of this debate because Sen. Kerry and Sen. Graham and Sen. [Joe] Lieberman will be coming forward””allegedly””next week with a new proposal that will begin to get us off overseas oil and will begin to put people to work in giving us energy independence and cutting carbon. Ordinary folks need to be able to step up in that because there’s going to be a lot of people that want this bill to only help the energy companies and not to help ordinary people. And there’s going to be the opportunity for regular people to get real actual benefits””to get refunds. People are like, “oh, I’m scared of this energy bill because it’s going to make my energy bill go up,” but there’s a way you can actually get a refund on your energy bill and actually wind up with more money in your pocket if you make your home more energy efficient.

So we’re going to see a tug of war now between the interests that want to keep things in the old way and people that want to do things in a new way. You say, “why is it important for ordinary voices to be heard?” Well, because frankly, if we had a clean energy economy, we would have more work, more wealth, and better health for regular people. That’s what’s not getting through. There are way more jobs putting up solar panels, building smart batteries, making wind turbines, putting them up, than we will ever have again in America in the coal lines. Period.

If you want a jobs agenda, we need to be moving toward a technology-based job agenda rather than continuing to pull down on our natural resources that we are now beginning to see dwindle here in America. You’ll have more wealth. There are way more entrepreneurial opportunities for new businesses and new products and new services in the clean energy space. Not many people are going to go out and start an oil company tomorrow. But people can go start a solar company tomorrow.

So just straight-up common sense. There’s more wealth to be had for ordinary people in a new economy. And also from a health point of view, the green agenda is about cleaner air, cleaner water, healthier food. And so the stuff that ordinary people are dealing with””the questions around work, wealth, and health””we have much better answers, those of us who are champions for the green economy, than the people who are the champions of the dirty energy economy.

Listen to the podcast with Van Jones (mp3)

Van Jones is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress focusing on “green-collar jobs” and how cities are implementing job-creating climate solutions.


5 Responses to The new environmentalists wear hard hats

  1. Leif says:

    We need to repair the EARTH. Capitalism and by extension corporations are designed from the get go to maximize profits which are then funneled to the few. That formula has proven quite successful. Look at the facts. ~5% of the population currently control ~95% of the wealth. That 5% justify that disparity by yelling that it is a free society and available to all. Can we all buy a politician to allow us to pollute our neighbors yard to make profits? Take minerals beneath public lands and waters for pennies on the dollar of value? The list goes on and the obvious answer is NO! The well being of humanity is not even allowed a seat at the table of the WTO. It all happens behind closed doors with a note slipped under the door from time to time saying that it is all for our own good. What a crock, as our jobs and technologies are shipped over seas to be built by low wage workers and ship here to be sold to people with out jobs! Society makes billionaires out of millionaires while the rest of us get to work cleaning up the mess on the tax payers dime. Defend the exploitations of the rich around the world with our tax dollars; The lives of our youth! The health of our planet!
    By all means we need to repair the EARTH and we need WORKERS to do that.

    EARTH DAY today and all days.

    Humanity First, Status Quo, NO!

  2. substanti8 says:

    “a tug of war now between … the old way and … a new way”

    With all due respect, I think that Van Jones has framed the issue into a false dichotomy that assumes we will continue with the same basic economic model.  It’s similar to the myth that Republicans and Democrats represent a significant difference.

    Mr. Jones offers a startling vision of “hard hat” America that seems to dismiss ecology as “the birds and the bees and that kind of stuff.”

    But isn’t “that kind of stuff” more important than continuing with the old thinking that we need “jobs” with companies that serve capital investors?  That only leads to the same old treadmill of productivism and growth.

    Much of the debate is concisely summarized by the IPAT equation – primarily developed by Ehrlich, Holdren and Commoner.  That model strongly suggests that the world cannot withstand more “work” for “more wealth.”  (Bob Black argued beautifully that what we really need is an Abolition of Work.)

    The advocacy by Van Jones echoes the same philosophy as the Apollo Alliance.  Their premise is that the damaging effects of population and affluence can be completely mitigated by improvements in technology.  But technology is nothing more than the application of intelligence to the use of energy and raw materials.  When energy and raw materials become scarce – a process that has already started – then it doesn’t matter how smart we are (or think we are) in creating new technology.

    If technology cannot save us, then we will not solve the climate crisis (or a wide variety of other ecological problems) with Industrialism 2.0 – a “new and improved” capitalism with “green-collar jobs” and “green” investors.  So the degree to which you agree with Van Jones depends on whether you think that ecological impact can be primarily (or entirely) reduced with technology.

    I say that future generations don’t need a “jobs agenda”; they need an ecological agenda.  We need to give them an economy based on zero growth and restored local community.  That means acknowledging the rhinoceros in the living room – the ecological imperative to reduce affluence.  (Do we really think that 9 billion people can all ride in personal cars?)  That means the abolition of the Ponzi scheme known as capitalism.

  3. Anna Haynes says:

    I [heart] Van Jones.

    re this – “HOME STAR/Cash for Caulkers…Right now people are paying 20, 30, 40 percent too much on their energy bills because we don’t have the right insulation, we don’t have the right windows, we don’t have the new boilers and furnace, but nobody’s got any money to go get all that stuff.”

    There was a PBS show Tuesday night, on California’s AB32, that made the same point re homeowners not having the upfront cash for weatherization, and it left me wondering whether there’s a way to – commoditize? – this, and let me direct x dollars from my 401(k) to an endeavor that does the weatherization & then gets its capital back & then some, via the utility bills.
    (someone else could probably word this better, but I hope the gist of it comes across)

    Does something like this already exist, as an investment option? or are there good reasons why it wouldn’t be attractive?

    (apologies if I’ve already asked this & it’s been answered; I don’t think so, but sometimes it takes an iteration or two to sink in.)

  4. Anna Haynes says:

    Answering my own Q, somewhat –
    How innovative financing is changing energy in America

    (municipal bonds, property taxes and PACE – Property Assessed Clean Energy)

  5. Dan B says:

    Annna & Van;

    I’ve said this about my neighborhood many times as Van has laid out the brilliant connection between green and salve.

    What my neighborhood needs is a little salve – not salvation – just a little influx of capital so we can put some “clean green” into our little projects, and hopefully into our homes.

    My neighborhood is on a hill with a bit of a view to a beautiful lake. Down in the valley is gang violence, mean housing, fear and flight. It spills up our hill sometimes. “Sometimes” means we’re always on high alert, always. Half of us own our homes, half rent. Us owners know how close we are to being renters. The renters are glad to have made it out of the valley, the valley of gang violence.

    We’d love to put sustainable energy into the ‘hood. If single mothers don’t have to choose between taking their kids to school and working to make enough money to pay the utilities they’d make enough to pay to buy instead of rent, or pay to rent on the hill. They’re not as disturbed about paying money to Saudi Arabia because many of us are from the Middle East. We’re disturbed about paying money to Americans who buy Arabian Oil and sell it to us and then pay to pass laws to profile us, and pay for “immigration” prisons – very expensive high-tech prisons.

    Three miles from my house is a billionaire who flies in illegals on his private jet – one of his private jets. His money comes from mining. He claims his money comes from living the American dream. His main subsidiary is in Arizona, the state that just passed an immigration law that would “profile” 1/4 of my neighbors.

    He despises sustainable energy.

    Let’s give him a wake-up call. If local jurisdictions don’t… well, they haven’t, they’ve said, “Green jobs is not our job.” … go around them. Grameen, co-op, Credit Unions – whatever it takes. We’ll do it. Jobs, our jobs, depend upon it.