White House Adviser Pushes 'Green Collar' Jobs Before taking office, President Obama vowed to create 5 million "green" jobs over the next decade. White House adviser Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, explains the administration's commitment to creating a green nation.

White House Adviser Pushes 'Green Collar' Jobs

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103358189/103358185" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

VAN JONES: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Now I'm sure you're bored with this question, but just to set the table for people who haven't been following this conversation, what makes a job green? Is it the way you do the job or what the job does?

JONES: Well, it's a little bit of both. I mean, you can think about a green-collar job in particular as a blue collar job that's been upgraded or up- skilled to better respect the environment. So the other classic examples are, you know, someone putting up solar panels, someone manufacturing wind turbines, someone retrofitting a building so that building wastes less energy. All of these are jobs that are good for an individual's wealth. But they are also good for the community and the planet's health.

MARTIN: You started off as a civil rights attorney in Oakland, California. And later you created the nonprofit organization Green For All, with the dual mission of building a green economy and lifting people out of poverty. And, you know, in the developing world, I think people get the linkage.

JONES: Yeah.

MARTIN: Like, people like the Kenyan Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai has pointed out that when the environment is degraded, people are more likely to fight over resources. But how does that translate into a developed economy, into an urban context?

JONES: Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, one of the great things is that, you know, Barack Obama really gets this. And he understands we're entering this sort of third wave of environmentalism, you know, in the United States. You know, we had the conservation wave, where you're mainly talking about, you know, let's not pave everything. Let's keep some trees. Let's keep some land. That struggle continues. Then we had the regulation wave, which is we don't poison everything. Let's, you know, make sure that we aren't making ourselves sick with our industrial processes.

But this new wave is different. This new wave is asking finally, let's conserve our past, let's regulate the problems of the present. But let's invest in the solutions of the future, too. Let's invest in wind. Let's invest in solar. Let's invest in high performances building, let's invest in mass transit. Let's do those things that will actually avoid the negative. That means you have tremendous opportunity for new jobs, new industries, new services, new products, new opportunity.

And what Barack Obama has done, everybody says he's the first black president, he's also the first green president. Because if you look at the recovery package he's put on the table, just depending on how do the math, $20 to $40 billion on the table right now for renewal energy, for green job training, et cetera. Barack Obama believes that we can beat global warming by beating this recession, by putting millions of people to work in these new industries.

MARTIN: I want to play short clip of some remarks you made during a panel discussion that Vice President Joe Biden presided over last month about urban youth and the green movement. Here's a short clip.

JONES: We have young people who have no hope, no future. They're going to funerals every other weekend. They look at a job market that seems to have no place for them. And when something crazy happens in the neighborhood, Mr. Vice President, you know, we are very good at going to that neighborhood and telling those young people what they should stop doing. Stop doing the drugs. Stop with the violence. Stop getting pregnant. We tell them what they should stop doing. We aren't as good at telling them what they can do. This green movement has a moral responsibility to be a green wave that lifts all boats.

MARTIN: What does that mean?

JONES: What that means is that we have an incredible amount of work to be done in our country. And Barack Obama wants us to re-power and retrofit a nation. It's never been done before. It's a huge effort to begin to move to cleaner, greener sources of energy to make ourselves more energy independent, to make sure that our water is clean, our climate is safe. Well, that's a tremendous amount of work. And we have all these people who don't have work. So we have a tremendous once in a lifetime opportunity to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done.

And tell those young people in rural America and Appalachia, and Native American reservations and in urban America, look, the president has a job that he's trying to get done. We want to give you the tools and the training and the technology to get out there and put up those solar panels. Everything that's good for the environment is a job. Solar panels don't put themselves up, wind turbines don't manufacture themselves, buildings don't retrofit themselves. All those things are jobs. And so this is now an Earth Day for everybody.

MARTIN: You know, I know you had this question before but there are those who would argue that, first of all, markets are amoral. And that the responsibility to be economy, particularly in time of scarce resources, is to address these problems as efficiently as possible. And that doesn't necessarily match up with these other social justice objectives, however laudatory they may be. What do you say to that?

JONES: Well, I think it's great because that's exactly the point. When we talk about efficiency, what are we talking about? Look at the incredible $5 billion investment in the recovery package, in the Obama recovery package for energy efficiency. Well you say, well, that has nothing to do with social justice outcome, let's just weatherize those buildings. Well hold on a second, you take that dollar and you give it to someone and put them to work. Well, that person is somebody who is a displaced worker, maybe they were building homes, now they're not doing that because the economy is down.

Guess what, you give them that one dollar bill to go and now weatherize a home. That one dollar bill is the hardest working dollar bill in the history of American politics. You know why? That same dollar that just cut unemployment is now about to cut someone's energy bill. So, because when you weatherize a home you can bring somebody's energy bill down by 30 percent. Tremendous cost saving. That same dollar that cut unemployment and cut the energy bill is now also cutting pollution because that coal fire power plant down the street that's making the electricity now can put out 30 percent less pollution. And you just cut, you cut the pollution, you just got asthma, same dollar.

MARTIN: Reason why I focus on the morality of it?

JONES: Well, the reason to focus on the morality of it is because we have a president that is committed to America being the best America it can be. And it's important that when you have these opportunities, you know Dr. King and all those folks fought, bled and died so that we could integrate racially a pollution based economy. Now here we are about to build a green economy from scratch with our own efforts, our own ideas, our own laws. Let's build in equality and equal opportunity from the beginning. That's President Obama's agenda.

He showed that we could reinvent politics by having a big victory, bringing together people of all classes and all colors to work together toward reinventing politics on one day. Now we have a chance to take that same spirit of inclusion and cooperation to reinvent the economy so the American people can win every day.

MARTIN: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. It's Earth Day. And we're talking about the green jobs movement with White House special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Van Jones.

Talk about, just the practical reality - how many people who've said, you know, I want to put those light bulbs in but they cost too much. I'm not paying that.

JONES: Right, right.

MARTIN: And it's just, we've seen sort of examples of where - in Chicago this terrible heat wave a couple of years ago, where people actually died from heat exhaustion. And it was discovered after some analysis by city officials, in part a lot of these folks lived in older buildings where the landlords just said, look, I can't afford to put in more efficient air-conditioners. This might be cheaper to run but they're more expensive to buy.

JONES: Right, well that's part of the reason why we have to have the government as a partner to the problem solvers in this whole domain. The problem has been, again you say, you know, markets are amoral. I would say in this domain, markets left to themselves can be even immoral because what's happened is that we have not had the kind of innovation that would let these cost-saving devices get to everybody. Let me put it to you this way, often people say, oh, green stuff, oh man, don't talk about that green stuff, I ain't got no money. It's gonna cost me too much to be a part of this thing, I'm trying to just, you know, get by day to day.

Well, you know, a Barack Obama environmental agenda is not just one that says, spend more money. It's about having a green economy where people can save money and earn money by being a part of this efficiency revolution and clean energy revolution.

Let me just give you an example. People right now who are out of work are gonna turn on the TV, they're going to see Barack Obama in a manufacturing plant in Iowa, standing there with workers who were laid off, who didn't have jobs at a Maytag plant. That Maytag plant is now coming back as a wind power plant putting people to work. That's again giving people hope, practical money in their pocket but it also, wind power is cleaner, better for the earth.

MARTIN: I want to end on a personal note. We only have about a minute left. You wrote in commentary for the essay series "This I Believe" that we aired on this program. You talked about how your late father taught you to expect big things from yourself and those around you. So what big things do you expect from your time at the White House and how will you know whether you have succeeded?

JONES: When Barack Obama can give a speech without opening his mouth and get a standing ovation by showing pictures of before and after of places like Kansas City, Missouri, where people were down their luck, showing before, no job, now I have a job. Community before, people, no hope, now I have hope. Carbon emissions, before up, now down. Unemployment before, down, now up. Just click - if you can just hit a clicker and show those pictures and sit down and get a standing ovation, I did my job.

MARTIN: It's a pretty tall order.

JONES: But give us four years.

MARTIN: Okay, Van Jones is White House special advisor for green jobs. Well, that four years is not up to me by the way. That was an acknowledgement not an endorsement. Van Jones is the White House special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. He is also the author of "The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems." And he's kind enough to join us on this Earth Day from our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you so much for stopping by. We hope you will come back.

JONES: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: To read Van Jones' essay for "This I Believe" if you missed it, please go to our Web site, the Tell Me More page at npr.org.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.