Monday, January 11, 2010

Book: The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones

It's impossible to read this book--published in the waning days of the last Bush administration--without thinking of what was to happen to Van. That he was run out of Washington, the ravening Republican mobs waving torches behind him, seems such an overreaction to his program as put forth in this book.

Green Collar Economy is not a manifesto for revolution. It's only incidentally a manifesto for reform. The book is primarily a call for public investment in green technology and jobs, with--it is hoped--an emphasis on low-income communities. Jones illustrates some of the projects already underway, and details some of the challenges they have faced.

The book points out two areas of crisis: the first is inequality (particularly for people of color), the second is environmental destruction. Conveniently, Jones says, we can solve both these problems by giving people good jobs doing environmentally beneficial stuff! We're not just talking building windmills and installing solar panels, which are the poster jobs for the New Green Economy™, but also less glamorous niches, like weatherproofing housing and waste reclamation.

Most of the thesis of the book--the economy's broken, the environment's being broken, let's fix one with the other--is not exactly a surprise. There have been plenty of calls for programs like Cash for Caulkers and for massive investment in biofuels. One unique facet is the way Jones addresses the environmental movement. First, and least surprisingly, he takes mainstream environmentalism to task for mostly ignoring people of color. He also lays some of the responsibility--fairly or not--on the environmental justice movement for not drawing in the mainstream.

Unfortunately, so far history has shown that not only is Van Jones sacrificable to the rabid maw of the right wing, but the idea of a massive jobs program aimed at anything other than politically-important constituencies is also one that seems a relic of a more hopeful era.

There is still time, however. The messenger may already be body-bagged and carted away, but the need for the programs he cites is still there. Whether anyone with the power to do something pays attention is a whole other matter.

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