comments_image Comments

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.

Van Jones is an award-winning activist, best-selling author, orator and political advisor. I helped him birth his first book, The Green Collar Economy (Harper One, 2008).

The book launched at No. 12 on the New York Times best-seller list. Its central claim, that green jobs can save both our economy and our environment, has lodged itself in the public debate. Jones' organization, Green For All, helped write (and then pass) the Green Jobs Act 2007. The act authorizes $125 million in green-collar job training in emerging green sectors like solar and wind industries, energy retrofitting and green building construction, biofuel production and more. Twenty percent of the funds support a green Pathways Out of Poverty Program to provide targeted resources and support to low-income individuals .

Ariane Conrad: So, last year you founded a national advocacy organization, wrote & released a NYT best-seller (with me), advised the Obama team, and witnessed the birth of your second son. How are you gonna top that?

Van Jones: Well, it's not a goal to top it. I think it would be good to get somebody a job. Right now, we're in a bubble of green rhetoric and a bowl of actual green investment and job creation. So my goal for next year is to move from inspiration to implementation on this stuff.

AC: You were one of Time magazine's (and other place's) "environmental heroes." Yet you eat meat, drive a gas-powered car … and you're black! How is this happening?

VJ: Well, this is not your grandma's environmental movement any more. We're now moving into a stage where the green economy isn't just going to be the place for people to spend money. It's going to become a place where a lot more people can earn money, and also save more money. These kind of solutions require collective action and government action. So as an advocate for government change, even somebody like me gets to have a role.

AC: A starring role. Aren't you, in point of fact, a superhero?

VJ: I am not, in fact, a superhero. Just a humble, mild-mannered civil rights attorney.

AC: I insist you reveal your true identity.

VJ: Well my true identity, of course, is Anthony Jones from Jackson, Tenn. One might be able to use a search engine to figure that out.

AC: Or the New Yorker.

VJ: Right -- or the New Yorker, which outed me! Just goes to show you shouldn't let a reporter hang around you for 37 hours.

But as you know, I do feel kind of like I have a split identity in that there's Van Jones, who has this big public role and tries to inspire millions of people to do new stuff together. And then there's just me: a pretty quiet, shy, retiring person. I used to go to all these environmental conferences when I wasn't an invited speaker. I was just somebody in the back taking a lot of notes. It was when I was least visible that I came up with the most cool stuff. Now, because I don't get to be Clark Kent, I feel like my learning curve is slowing way down. I'm always afraid the conversation will move on and I'll be up at the front of the room saying last year's speech.

AC: You've been invited to, and attended, the World Economic Forum in Davos a number of times. You were also in the streets of Seattle 10 years ago getting teargassed. How do those experiences relate to where you are today?

See more stories tagged with: