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Van Jones: "This Is Not Your Grandma's Environmental Movement Anymore"

The tanking economy is also changing the environmental movement. Van Jones talks about what we should be doing next.

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The reality is, if you take any three people and look at their cell phones or BlackBerrys and Facebook pages, you can get to almost everywhere in the country, because we're networked together in a way that is incredibly powerful. The fact that one random guy with a first book could stun the publishing industry, in the middle of an election season, with no appearance on Larry King, "Oprah" or the "Daily Show," is a testament to this powerhouse that exists. And it can be tapped for lots of things.

AC: Like getting someone into the White House. But I think there's a caveat -- what you accomplished isn't something that any author could have done. Because it was more than a "buy my book" message that prompted people to act.

VJ: This is true. There's something about faith I want to talk about here: I'm definitely a person of faith, both in the traditional sense in that I'm a Christian -- but I'm also a person of faith in that I have faith in motherfuckers, you know what I mean. In the past two years, I've talked face to face (not on TV or on the radio) to maybe 150,000 people. And you make a connection with people. In that regard, I'm like a garage band that spends a couple years touring around the country. When they bring their CD out, people remember that performance and buy it, even if they didn't love the music all that much.

AC: And now the term "green jobs" is everywhere. "Green collar jobs" -- not so much. Is this an omission you're concerned about? Are the jobs being discussed the ones that will reach the people most in need of jobs?

VJ: Well, when we first started the book, it was a smaller idea. The idea was how do we get this new sector, which is likely to be growing up and to be bedeviled with labor shortages, to be an entry point for people who were locked out of the pollution-based economy. Now, because of the economic collapse, people who were not in poverty are at least broke, if not unemployed, and there's going to be an incredible tendency for us to just re-employ those people. Meanwhile, the people who've been unemployed for years or who are coming out of prisons, high schools, coming home from wars, who've maybe never had a job, they get short shrift. It's a tremendous challenge now: to make sure the green economy is big enough that there is enough labor demand that people who've been thrown out of work can be re-employed and people who are new to the workforce can be employed. And that is going to be very difficult.

AC: And that's a function of…

VJ: That's a function of Barack Obama. It's a function of whether government policy will create enough incentives and support for energy efficiency and renewable energy to really take off. If the federal government does what I want them to do, which is to create a Clean Energy Corps that would combine green service, green job training and green jobs that retrofit millions of buildings, well, you can put almost a million people to work doing that, at a cost of about $40 billion. If the government follows the " Green Recovery Proposal" from the Center for American Progress, where I'm a senior fellow, for about $100 billion, you can put 2 million people to work across the country -- professions like roofers, pipefitters, metalworkers, electricians -- retrofitting and repowering the country with clean energy and making the country more energy efficient. So there's 2, 2.5 million jobs that could be created by smart government investment, incentives, tax breaks, loan guarantees, revolving loan funds, direct grants, subsidies… There's a lot of stuff the government can do to get people working in this area.

 
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