RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Now, to President Obama's special advisor on green jobs. Van Jones wants these environmental incentives to translate into work. He co-founded Green for All in Oakland, California, which tries to create environmental jobs for poor people, and wrote a bestseller, "The Green Collar Economy." Now, Van Jones has the chance to carry out his ideas on a very large scale.
Mr. VAN JONES (Special adviser to President Obama): I've been accused of being the green jobs czar — I consider myself to be the green jobs handyman. We've got about $40 billion in the recovery package that is targeted toward renewable energy, green-job training, energy efficiency, and part of my job is to help to coordinate getting all that money out into the economy, making jobs for people.
MONTAGNE: Now, does coordinate translate to you can in a sense spend that $40 billion, decide where it's going and tell people what to do?
Mr. JONES: Well, then I really would be a czar. No, no. coordinate means, you know, Congress gave clear direction and instruction. Our departments and agencies also have some discretion. But what we need is coordination. You know, it's a long way from the president signing a bill into law to someone in our country signing the back of a paycheck. I'm kind of like a community organizer inside the federal family, getting people to work together and talk together. So it's great.
MONTAGNE: Now, how do you define a green job?
Mr. JONES: Well, a green job, especially a green collar job, is a blue collar job that's been upgraded or upskilled to better respect the environment. So you think about an electrician who now knows how to deal with solar panels or a plumber who can deal with solar hot water. You want to think about jobs that are good for an individual's wealth — in other words they pay well - but they're also good for the community and the planet's health.
But it basically helps to break this age-old war between people who said either we can do well economically for our children, but then sacrifice our grandchildren ecologically, or we can look out for our grandchildren ecologically, but we have to hurt our kids economically by not growing the economy.
MONTAGNE: Although some, if not many shovel-ready projects could in fact hurt the environment. One could argue the expanding highways is not exactly environmentally friendly, and in some areas there's a push by politicians to get around environmental restrictions in order to get them going.
Mr. JONES: A big chunk of our highway outlays are for resurfacing and doing things that make roads smoother and better, which helps in terms of fuel efficiency. But on the environmental side of the recovery, when we talk about shovel-ready, what we're talking about primarily are those jobs that make our buildings more efficient. What's ready to go right now, we have millions of buildings across the country that are wasting energy. And we have all these people who are not working.
MONTAGNE: Now, how much though, can green jobs put a dent in the massive job loss this country is experiencing right now?
Mr. JONES: Well, a lot of that depends on how seriously we take meeting our energy challenges. If we decide when our sisters and brothers in China are investing $12 million an hour creating renewable energy investments overseas, if we decide that we want to compete, we can create millions of jobs.
MONTAGNE: Now how much does all of this play into something that you have a history with, and that is poor communities? You've said that you want to green the ghetto. And in fact, explain what that means.
Mr. JONES: When you think about green, you often think about people who have a lot of money and who can afford a certain lifestyle. But really, what the green economy represents is a massive opportunity for new work, new wealth, and better health for all Americans. And so there is an opportunity here to take the people who most need work and connect them with them work that most needs to be done.
MONTAGNE: Although these are the very people who polls and various studies show are the least interested in green issues.
Mr. JONES: Um-hum. Well, I think that has to do with the way that we have talked about green issues. We tend to talk about green issues without talking about the green for your pocket. And that has to change.
For instance, let's look at what Congressman Emanuel Cleaver is doing in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kansas City, Missouri. He took working with other elected officials $200 million of recover money and was able to concentrate that on a 150 block area where it's a tough neighborhood, people don't have opportunity, he says, let's use this money in a green way. We're going to weatherize every home that needs it. We're going to create more mass transit. We're going to save people money in terms of transportation and home heating costs, and put people to work.
Well, there was no lack of low-income people who were enthusiastic about that kind of green politics. Imagine if in the next ten years, we have as much innovation in our energy sector as we had in the last ten years in our information sector. You do that, guess what. You get to lead the whole world -again, not in pollution, but in solutions.
MONTAGNE: Ben Jones is the president's special advisor for green jobs, enterprise, and innovation. Thanks for joining us.
Mr. JONES: Oh, thank you.
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