Van Jones on Ecology, Hope and Humans
By CSRwire Contributing Writer Martha Shaw
On the heels of the 2010 Social Venture Network Fall Invitational, Martha Shaw talks with Van Jones about “green” politics and why he suggests we look to faith leaders, CEOs and into the mirror for guidance.
You know Van Jones. In 2007, he co-founded Green For All, a national NGO dedicated to building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. His first book, The Green Collar Economy, released in 2008, reached twelfth on the New York Times Best Seller list. In 2008, Time magazine named Jones one of its “Heroes of the Environment.” Fast Company called him one of the “12 Most Creative Minds of 2008.”
The cross-fire of political food fights.
In March 2009, Jones was appointed by President Obama to the new position of Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. His work to advance the Administration’s climate and energy initiatives, with a focus on improving vulnerable communities, was rather rudely interrupted by an aggressive campaign against him accusing him of everything from Marxism to disparaging remarks about Republicans in particular. Jones resigned in early September 2009. “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me,” Jones said in his resignation statement. “They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.”
Rising above adversity, today Jones is a senior fellow at the Center For American Progress and a senior policy advisor at Green For All. He is a distinguished fellow at Princeton University at the Center for African American Studies and the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
Van’s experience at the White House apparently had a worse effect on others than on himself. He looks at his days in the Administration as the opportunity of a lifetime to find out what makes our country tick. According to Van, he worried about our country, which is why he went in, and became much more worried after he came out. People across America were traumatized by what seemed to be a backhanded political motive to foil his policy reform. “People of all colors still come up to me in despair about how unfair it was,” says Van Jones. “They’re all upset and I say, ‘hey, you’ll be okay.’” But does he really think we’re going to be okay? Not if we are counting on Washington, where he saw firsthand what he calls “food fight politics.”
Looking to faith leaders, CEOs, educators and to ourselves.
Recently Jones addressed the Temple of Understanding gathering of international faith leaders and then the Social Venture Network Fall Invitational, where social entrepreneurs came together. He offered a narrative regarding how we relate to the Earth and its resources.
“This is a sacred room,” said Van addressing the eclectic collection of spiritual dignitaries at the Temple of Understanding event. “You are the people who hold the people, through the ceremonies in their lives, the difficulties in their lives. You will lead us through a transition ahead that man has never been through. We have been in an adolescent civilization. But we have to grow up, and people of faith are key to helping people mark that transition. Should spiritual people get involved in politics? Yes, because sometimes the problems get so deep that the walls between the secular and the sacred collapse.”
A time of hope and heartbreak.
Jones also shared a story about Paul Hawkins addressing a room full of low-income African Americans. He turned to a little girl who asked the question, “Why are some people poor?” Hawkins answered, “Some people have a hard time finding work.” The little girl then asked, “Well, is all the work done?”
“No, it’s not,” states Van. “When you fly over and see all the roofs without solar panels and bridges falling down, that’s work to be done. We have this rare opportunity — some of the most highly skilled best-trained workers in the world are not working. They’ve been called lazy union guys and bums by our radio celebrities. Our skilled workers aren’t given the right products to work on. The politics taking over are glamorizing sink-or-swim rugged individualism, where people who don’t make it must have problems, so let them sink. But we can fight pollution and poverty at the same time.”
Sharing success stories of hope.
This week Americans may cast misguided votes in response to bad economic news ruling the airwaves, where paid programming and paid news are the new norm. It can’t hurt to broadcast some good news, even to friends and neighbors. For example, there are more solar installers and wind turbine workers than coal miners, and these numbers are growing.
“Get out there and share your success stories,” Van suggested to hundreds of the Social Venture Network’s successful entrepreneurs committed to triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) business, including B Corporations. “Good news is not making headlines. This is by design,” he continues.
One government site posting success stories in clean technology, energy efficiency and green jobs is The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). You can share your stories here — because there’s no harm in spreading good news and hope.
About Martha Shaw
Martha Shaw a contributing writer for CSRwire covering clean technology and other topics. Martha has been named an Adweek Creative All Star and is the winner of international awards in communications. She is a member of the Climate Literacy Network, Fellow of the Explorers Club, board member of NYSES and CEO of Earth Advertising.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers’ community and expresses this author’s views alone.