For the last decade, the green movement has suffered from an identity crisis, a vacillation between two divergent camps -- on the one hand the affluent Prius-driving, Whole Foods-shopping baby boomers (think Ed Bagely Jr.) and on the other, the hemp & dreads-sporting vegan hippies (think Michael Franti). Though everyone's intentions were great, this inadvertent niche branding of the green movement has had two very unfortunate side effects...
First, it alienated most of America. Being green, for a lot of people, meant that you were either rich and politically correct, or counter-culture and politically annoying. Not very American. Being green became, well, uncool. The other very unfortunate consequence was that it took the focus off the important issues, making "green" more about a lifestyle choice than a moral imperative. It's no surprise then that 2008 became the "year that green died" as declared by numerous marketing pundits like Adam Werbach
This backlash trend was very disturbing because one could see that if unchecked, it would mean losing the momentum of public sentiment that had been building for years to support the real
environmental movement, the one carried on the backs of thousands of hard-working environmental and social justice groups whose only care has been to create a safe and healthy planet for us all. But fortunately Van Jones, director of Green for All
, came along.
The first time I heard Van Jones speak at this year's Netroots Nation, I knew everything would be OK. Besides the resultant goosebumps (a personal first for an environmental lecture) Van laid out a concise, simple and elegant reframing of the environmental movement as a way to solve our two greatest problems -- growing poverty and growing environmental health risks. Here is an excerpt from a recent talk by Van Jones which will give you the idea:
Van Jones has done something remarkable. He has made the environmental movement a populist movement, something everyone can participate in no matter their age, race or walk of life. And in this new "green economy" everyone wins. We can stop spending $700 billion a year on foreign oil, while improving national security. We can create 8.5 million jobs and almost a trillion dollars in revenue in just one year (2006) while improving air quality and reducing asthma rates. When banks (e.g ShoreBank, Calvert) invest in small green tech companies like Indie Energy
they can solve problems big and small -- raising the quality of life for an urban neighborhood while helping solve the climate crisis at large.
So who will do the hard and noble work of actually building the green economy? The answer: millions of ordinary people, many of whom do not have jobs right now. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, the major barriers to a more rapid adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency are not financial, legal, technical, or ideological...simply that green employers can't find enough trained, green-collar workers to do all the jobs.
Van will be keynoting at the first ever Green Inaugural Ball and rumor has it he is working closely with the Obama team in helping to develop strategies for economic growth in the green sector. Van Jones proposes a "green New Deal" which will allocate funds to creating public infrastructure and new technology jobs.