On April 13, Anthony ‘Van’ Jones presented his ideas for a new economy based on green jobs at the 16th annual Rose Sheinberg Lecture. Jones, the former special advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, highlighted potential changes—to both legislation and ways of life—that could help both the economy and the environment.

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Jones, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who holds a joint appointment at Princeton University as a distinguished visiting fellow in the Center for African American Studies and the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, cut his teeth working as an advocate for urban youths in California. In the mid-1990s, Jones co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland, CA-based non-profit that works for "justice in the system, opportunity in our cities, and peace on our streets."

His attention shifted to the environment when he started to notice the disparities between Oakland and its neighbor to the north, Marin County, which is home to miles of state park land and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the U.S. “I said, Why do I have to get in my car and drive all the way over here for this?” Jones remembered. “Why don’t we have clean air and clean water and healthy food and good jobs in Oakland?” In 2005, the Ella Baker Center launched the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, and Jones began traveling the country campaigning for green job creation as a means to fight incarceration and poverty rates while also serving the environment.  “Just as we were getting some momentum…the economy collapsed—the whole economy, not just the green economy,” Jones said. “So, the work I was doing to try to grow a part of our economy in a green direction suddenly became much more important to me.”

Jones pointed to problems with the economy that a re-imagined and greener approach could remedy. During the end of the 20th century, Jones said, the American economy moved too far towards importing and consumption and away from production and exporting. “The icon of the American economy went from being the factory to the mall,” Jones said. To reverse this, Jones suggested that the U.S. reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and rely more on the potential for wind and solar energy in the U.S., and to encourage manufacturers of green technologies to produce in the U.S. “Why don’t we turn the industrial heartland—the so called rust belt—into a green belt, and produce wind turbines needed for us and the world?” Jones wondered.

Among his other proposals: a return to thrift and savings of both money and energy; stricter pollution regulation for big oil and coal companies and other major polluters—“You can’t pollute for free,” he said; and the preservation and restoration of the environment. “If we are going to live up to our patriotic duty to defend America’s beauty, and have an economy not based on destroying America’s beauty…but restoring its beauty,” Jones said in conclusion, “then we need carbon reduction and a climate bill that let us have that outcome.”

“Van is sometimes called a social entrepreneur, but that is much too small a term for him, too referential to those whose creativity is focused on making money,” said Gara LaMarche, president and CEO of the Atlantic Philanthropies, who introduced Jones.  “Instead, Van’s creativity, energy, passion, and vision have been directed, with increasing focus and intensity every step of his life, on a different kind of capital: the vast storehouse of human capacity, potential, and love.”

Watch the full lecture (1 hr 18 min):

Posted April 20, 2010