Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Green Collar Economy

Van Jones recently became the first African American author to get a book about “the environment” on the NYT best seller list – The Green Collar Economy – How one solution can fix our two biggest problems. But, like sustainability, the book’s not really about the environment – at least not only, or primarily. It’s about us, and sustaining our civilization. He does a masterful job at putting the complex and interrelated issues of sustainability into accessible and compelling language – without sacrificing that complexity or glossing over important considerations. No easy task.

The basic premise of the green collar economy and green collar jobs has been around a little while now, but is really hitting its stride as a confluence of events – awareness of the problems and potential solutions around global warming, volatile energy prices, peak oil, energy security, along with the economic crisis, Obama, and a renewed sense of purpose in America and the world – comes together to create an incredible opportunity.

It’s about creating 5 million (or more) new jobs improving our communities and getting off fossil fuels. It’s about putting people – particularly those marginalized for too long – to work doing the things we desperately need done: insulating buildings, rebuilding the grid, installing solar and wind power systems, manning recycling centers, manufacturing sustainable products, growing local food, installing green roofs and porous pavement, deconstructing and recycling old buildings, etc.

Some perverse economic incentives need to change for this to really take off – internalize the cost of carbon, phase out subsidies to fossil fuels and industrial agriculture, and the like- and some training is needed to develop the knowledge and skills to get this done. Like many others, Jones is talking about a ‘Green New Deal’ and also a “Green Growth Alliance” – properly distinguishing between “good growth” and “bad growth” – the former being the growth of value, the latter the destructive physical growth we currently pursue.

Beyond being just about right on in my view with the huge potential for beneficial solutions, he does a masterful job highlighting the importance of the social attributes of what this shift must look like. Not only that “social problems” that need to be “solved” can be eliminated through such a shift, but also that a broad alliance of all segments of society are necessary for success. He puts into very concrete terms the idea that it’s us (humanity) against un-sustainability. These social considerations are not feel-good add-ons to sustainability work, they are the core of it. He lays out some principles for creating the green-collar economy:

1) Equal protection for all – the poor are being hit first and hardest by unsustainability – whether it’s drought in Africa, rising seas in the South Pacific, or Katrina – and we must foster a strong sense of community and equal protection if our civilization is to survive.

2) Equal opportunity for all – we cannot simply replace solar for oil and reinforce a divided society where some are systematically held back from success, it is a great opportunity to lift millions out of poverty and we will need the energy and creativity of everyone to do so.

3) Reverence for all Creation – this is self-explanatory, and sort of a combined step into Deep Ecology and inclusion of the huge segment of our global population made up by people of faith.

All in all, a very well-done, and very readable, accessible book – and as timely as ever given the confluence of events (not that this is surprising as these events are the inevitable result of the old economic system). Stay going.