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Van Jones: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

"We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward," says Jones in this excerpt from Greg Pahl's book, "Power from the People."

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We must prepare ourselves (and our communities) for the worst possible outcomes. In considering the most pessimistic scenarios, we must talk less about economic growth and more about economic resilience; less about abundance and more about sufficiency; less about sustainability and more about survivability. It may be wise to consciously deploy our forces in a three- pronged, “trident” formation: some of us fixing the system from the inside, some of us pressuring the system from the outside, and some of us exercising the “lifeboat” option, thinking up alternative strategies for survival.

Power from the People is rare, because it gives some guidance on all three around the most important component of that system: energy.

You’ll read about courageous local government leaders finding creative ways to invest in local renewable energy; citizen activists pushing for (and winning) smarter regulations for green power; and entire communities taking matters into their own hands to prepare for an energy-scarcer future. Throughout the stories here, from both urban and rural communities, you’ll find a common theme all too often missing from the sustainability conversation: local prosperity. Local renewable energy is the heart of the new energy economy because it is the most obvious starting point for creating green jobs and generating local wealth. Local renewable energy puts the power in local empowerment.

By itself, however, even the most advanced local energy initiative can do little about our energy and environmental crises. Local actions must be multiplied to the level of movements . . . and nations.

Can America summon the strength, courage, and resolve to avert disaster and usher in a new age of sustainable prosperity? Both the ideas and the constituencies exist to turn the corner. We need a hard-hat-and-lunch- bucket brand of environmentalism . . . a we-can-fix-it environmentalism . . . a muscular, can-do environmentalism. We need a pro-ecology movement with its sleeves rolled up and its tool belt strapped on. We need a social uplift environmentalism that can fight poverty and pollution at the same time—by creating green-collar jobs for low-income people and displaced workers.

The time has come to birth a positive, creative, and powerful environmentalism, one deeply rooted in the lives, values, and needs of millions of ordinary people who work every day (or desperately wish they could).

We need an environmental movement that can put millions of people back to work, giving them the tools and the technologies they need to retrofit, re-engineer, and reboot the nation’s energy, water, and waste systems. Green-collar jobs can restore hope and opportunity to America’s failing middle-class and low-income families while honoring and healing the Earth. Those new jobs could create a ladder up and out of poverty for jobless urban residents. Under even the most depressing of scenarios, there certainly will be economic opportunities and green-collar jobs—from building dikes and levees and reconstructing devastated structures to installing community-owned wind turbines and operating renewable biofuel factories using regional feedstocks. The United States can fight global warming, energy scarcity, and poverty in the same stroke.

With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States now produces 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution. It also locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in its domestic incarceration industry. Those numbers document the notion that too many U.S. business and political lead- ers govern as if we have both a disposable planet and disposable people.

As the new green economy springs to life, will we live in eco-equity or eco- apartheid? Will clean and green business flourish only in the rich, white parts of town? Will our kids be left to deal with the toxic wastes of polluting industries, the life-threatening diseases that decimate polluted communities, and the crushing lack of economic opportunity as the old polluting economy goes bust? How we answer these questions will impact the fate of billions of people.