How & Why to Get (or Create) a Green Job: Q&A with Van Jones

Van Jones is the guy behind a new “New Deal” to get America back to work — while building the infrastructure to wean us off oil and coal. Appointed by President Obama as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Jones' job is to help shape the administration's energy and climate policy so that climate solutions produce jobs and justice for all Americans. As the founder of Green for All, he's a longtime green-jobs training advocate who's been honored by everyone from George Lucas to Time magazine.

Jones' new book The Green Collar Economy outlines his plan and offers insight on getting and creating green jobs. I asked him four questions about how you can put his ideas to work for you, your business or a friend who needs a new line of work.

Q. Can “Joe the Plumber” get a green job without going back to school?

A. According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, green employers can't find enough trained, green-collar workers to do all the jobs. That is good news for people who are being thrown out of work in the present recession, and for our veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In my book I share the story of single mom Angela Green, who spent 20 years in the printing industry, working her way up from messenger to managing her own store. Then her company shut down and she lost her job. She fought to hold on to her house. Then she heard that her city, Richmond, Calif., was offering a training program. Solar Richmond partners with the Solar Living Institute and Grid Alternatives … trainees learn on the job to install solar panels. Entry-level installers can become project leads. You need only two to three years of experience. As a traditional electrician you need 15 years under your belt to be considered experienced.

The resource section of my book lists about 70 local, regional and national groups organizing green-collar jobs training. They include the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights ,Tradeswomen, Inc., Green Communities Online and Groundwork USA.

Why do you say the new green economy is not like "The Jetsons”?

Someone says "green jobs," and our minds go to Buck Rogers — a top-secret laboratory, cool and beautiful Ph.D.s reworking equations for a new hydrogen fuel cell, or a space cowboy constructing solar panels that beam energy to our cities. But the main piece of technology in the green economy is a caulk gun.

Hundreds of thousands of green-collar jobs will be weatherizing and energy-retrofitting every building in the United States. Buildings with leaky windows, ill-fitting doors, poor insulation, and old appliances can gobble up 30 percent more energy. That means owners are paying 30 percent more on their heating bills. And it often means that 30 percent more coal-fired carbon is going into the atmosphere.

Another bit of high-tech green technology is the clipboard — used by energy auditors as they point out energy-saving opportunities to homeowners and renters. This job does not require much training and can be an early entry point into the booming world of energy consultation and efficiency. And one consultation can save an owner hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars annually.

Other pieces of green tech are ladders, wrenches, hammers, tool belts, and nonslip work boots. Those are the space-age gadgets used by solar panel installers every day.

The point is this: When you think about the emerging green economy, don't think of George Jetson with a jet pack. Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America. Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts for hybrid buses or wind turbines. Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.

In your book you emphasize that green collar jobs fix our two biggest problems. How?

Our two biggest crises are socioeconomic inequality and environmental destruction.

In the green economy solution, working-class people are motivated to take on green-collar jobs and start green businesses. This is the quadrant of "work, wealth, and health" for people of more modest means. Here, former brownfields, depressed urban areas, and hard-hit rural towns blossom as eco-industrial parks, green enterprise zones, and eco-villages. Farmers' markets, community co-ops, and mobile markets get fresh, organic produce to the people who can't afford to shop at health-food stores.

How can our new president help me get a green collar job?

With Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress, I have outlined three policy tracks the new administration must pursue simultaneously to make dramatic, politically sustainable progress on the climate, energy, and jobs policy.

The first track involves exerting immediate leadership within the executive branch, taking measures to coordinate U.S. climate and energy policy across all federal agencies and using executive orders, public communications, and other presidential prerogatives to manage carbon, capture energy savings, and promote renewable technologies.

Second, the White House must engage Congress to pass a suite of global-warming and energy legislation, including both a cap-and trade bill that limits emissions and complementary policies that strengthen standards and drive investment in clean energy.

The third track will entail a vigorous diplomatic effort to reclaim U.S. moral leadership abroad through progress on international climate negotiations, clean development, and addressing adaptation and energy poverty.


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