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Van Jones: We Can't Drill Our Way Out of Our Energy Problems

In an electrifying speech, Van Jones explains that we have to invent and invest our way out of the economic and environmental crises.
 
 
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The following speech was given at Netroots Nation 2008 in Austin, Texas.

I have a little bit of whiplash. Thirty-six hours ago I was in the Arctic with Jimmy Carter. This is not a joke, you all. (Laughter) It sounds like a joke, right? You hear about the black guy in the Arctic with Jimmy Carter? No, I was really ... (Laughter)

I was really in the Arctic, man, the abominable snow Negro. No, I was really there. (Laughter) And the reason, so I'm a little bit jet-lagged, but I want you to know, if you didn't know, it was kind of kept quiet until it was over. But a number of people, huge dignitaries, all got on a boat and went to the Arctic. We spent eight days. Jimmy Carter was there. Madeline Albright. Tom Daschle. Larry Page from Google. But not just liberals and progressives; the head of DuPont was there, eight days on a boat, to look and see if what's happening with climate change is real. The head of Monsanto was there. We had Republicans and Democrats, young people, old people, state leaders, Catholics, evangelicals.

And I want you to know that after eight days of looking with our own eyes of what's going on, looking at the glaciers receding, looking at the animals and life up there that's suffering, watching the actual results and impacts of global warming, that every single person who is a part of that delegation, Left, Right and otherwise, agreed that Al Gore has been right the whole time. Global warming is real.

We have to do something about it. Nobody who goes and spoke at this thing has come to any other conclusion. You need to understand that. This is our moment. This is our opportunity. Before I get to my comments, though, since we're here, I want to tell you about my personal experience in the Arctic.

First of all, they had us on this boat, man. Lot of people have bad experiences of boats, man. You know, we're ... (Laughter) far back memories, man. I was like, I don't like this. (Laughter) It was tough, man. And then, boats are not big things. They're not airplanes. I guess it's left over from the days of scurvy or something. They're small. And, OK, I busted my head open, man. I'm serious. I busted my head open on a bulkhead, like the first day, which was not very impressive. (Laughter) So, a little bit woozy.

The other thing that happened was, we had a meeting. We had a delegation, this meeting of the delegation of polar bears. And they're very polite, the polar bears. And they're very friendly. The polar bears were not as skinny and scrawny as I expected. They were definitely smaller than they were supposed to be, but they also looked toned, looked pretty healthy.

So I said, what's going on? You guys look at lot healthier than I expected. And nobody said anything. The polar bears, they got quiet. (Laughter) And the only polar bear that spoke up was a black one. (Laughter) Oh, see? You didn't know there was black polar bears. Now I'm telling you, man. Racism everywhere. (Laughter)

But the black polar bear was honest, man. He said, look. Tell you the truth. The seals, they are getting kind of scarce up here. But we've been snacking on these camera crews y'all keep sending. (Laughter) So tell Gore to keep giving the speeches, man. The camera crews are tasty. (Laughter) So I say that because it's so important that we do more than just send delegations to the Arctic and talk about it, and worry about it. It's time to take some real action. And I want to talk with you about our action plan. And I want to talk with you about the importance of it, because one of the things that I saw when I was there was up close and personal with Jimmy Carter.

I think a lot of times, in the progressive movement, we kind of almost go along with the conservatives in making fun of Jimmy Carter, almost turning him into a punch line. But I want to say, seeing him day after day, he's one of the truly great human beings that's ever lived on this earth.

We need to give him the respect that he's due. Jimmy Carter was talking about the oil crisis. He was talking about solar power. He was talking about wind energy 30 years ago. And if we had stayed with his program, if we had stayed with his policies, we wouldn't be where we are today. So he deserves the utmost respect from all of us. We need to rehabilitate Jimmy Carter.

If conservatives can rehabilitate Ronald Reagan, we can certainly rehabilitate Jimmy Carter. We have to learn the lessons, too, from his presidency, because we are about to go into a very similar situation. Many of you are excited about the Democratic nominee. Many of you are excited about having a Democrat back in the White House and think that your efforts may lend a hand toward getting him elected.

I want to say to you, your excitement is understandable, and your ability to get him elected is not in doubt. You probably can get this nominee elected. You probably cannot get him re-elected. I'm going to say it again. You can probably get him elected, but you probably cannot get him re-elected, unless we are very intelligent starting right now. Now is the time to think about the re-election of this president, not just the election.

And the last time we had a Democrat in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate, Democrats controlling the House, energy prices through the roof, jobs going down, was Jimmy Carter. And we had four years of that, and 12 years of Reagan-Bush. If we are not careful, if we are not smart, this could be four years as a precursor to the kind of right-wing backlash that will make us miss John McCain, make us miss George W. Bush. Don't think it's not possible. There are dragons on the Right who, in their anti-immigrant hatred, in their warmongering jingoism, in their commitment to drill and burn their way out of our energy crisis, will make you miss John McCain.

So it is serious, now, that we have to figure out, what is the set of policies, and the program and the plan, from the bottom up as well as the top down, to ensure that we have four years, eight years, 12 years, 24 years, 100 years to fix the past eight. That's what we need. We need a strategy for that.

Let me suggest to you that the term that we most must address, as we talk about energy and climate, is not a term about polar bears. It's not a term about polar bears, it's not a term about ice caps. It's a term from deep in the bowels of economics. The worst, scariest, most frightening, most horrific term in all of economics, the term that killed the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the term that could turn this country over to the far right in a very short period of time, that term is stagflation. Stagflation. And it's something that we haven't had to talk about for 30 years, but it is the term that sent shivers down the spine of anybody involved in politics.

What is stagflation? Stagflation is the worst possible outcome in market economics. Energy prices go up, and when they go up, they push up all prices, because it takes energy to make everything. But there's a particularly pernicious effect on energy prices going up. It's that the prices of everything go up, but jobs go down. Prices go up, but jobs go down. People buy less, they hire less. And over time, society gets stretched on the rack of the pain of prices continuing to rise, and jobs continuing to fall, and good people get voted out of office. That's what happened to Jimmy Carter, and it could happen to your nominee.

There's only one way out of stagflation, and that is to get energy prices down and stable. Here is our problem. The right wing has a strategy for getting energy prices down and stable. They want to drill and burn their way out of the problem. And you've heard it now for months: Drill now, pay less. That is their strategy. And they continue to beat the drum on that, and now the Democrats are starting to get weak on the point. We cannot drill and burn our way out of this crisis. If we do, we will bake this planet. That is a non-starter. It has to be off the table.

We cannot drill and burn our way out. But here's what we can do. We can say no. We aren't going to drill and burn our way out, but we can invent and invest our way out. We can invent and invest our way out. That's our strategy.

That's our strategy. And why is it a good strategy? It's a good strategy because you only have to do two things: cut demand for energy, and diversify supply. Why is that good for us? Because both of those things create jobs. Cutting demand creates jobs. Why? Cutting demand means conservation. It means weatherizing ... millions and millions of buildings across the country. Millions of buildings have to be weatherized so they don't leak so much energy. What does that mean? That creates thousands of contracts, millions of jobs, billions of dollars of economic stimulus. We're not building any more houses, but we can begin to rebuild the ones that we have right now to save on energy costs. See? That's a way out.

And it puts people to work. Cutting demand means a massive investment in public transportation, rail, clean buses. That's the way out. You cut demand for energy, and you create jobs doing it. On the supply side, diversifying our supply means wind, it means solar, it means all the things that (San Francisco Mayor) Gavin (Newsom) was just talking about. But that also means jobs. Why?

Many of you don't get on airplanes right now. All y'all concerned about carbon, you better put a whole bunch up ... (Laughter) and me, too. When you're flying over this country, look down. You'll see house, after house, after house. No solar panels. And go to sleep, wake up in an hour. You'll still be flying. Look down. More houses without solar panels. The next president of the United States should say, we are going to have a World War II level mobilization, a crash program to weatherize and solarize America, put up millions of solar panels on every surface we can find and put people to work doing it.

That's the way out. We have the technology. We have not had the political will to unleash that technology. I am proud to be part of an organization, Green For All, that is in partnership with One Sky, it's in partnership with Al Gore's Climate Alliance and other organizations, to bring this into being. So I want to tell you the three things that we're going to be doing this fall I'm going to need your major active support and intention on, that I want to talk to you about your role under this new administration.

... We have to change the terms of debate going through the fall. We have been getting our butts whooped by this drill-drill-drill mantra. And it's time for us to seize the terms of debate and show that we have answers, and we have solutions. That is going to be primarily up to you. We've seen that the mainstream media is willing to follow the right wing down the hellhole of increasing carbon emissions for short-term potential gains on gas prices. It's going to be up to you to tell a different story.

What is actually happening on our side that's not being covered? Three things.

Number one: We have legislation right now in front of Congress, the Green Jobs Act of 2007 and the Green Block Grant. What would they do? They would put enough money into the Department of Labor to send out, to community colleges and vocational schools all around the country, enough money to train 30,000 people a year in green jobs, in green trades. That is now being beat up and held up in Congress. We need your help to get the Green Jobs Act fully funded.

Number two: The mayors, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has gotten this Green Block Grant. It's called the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. It is authorized at $2 billion. That's also being held up and beat up in Congress. That would be $2 billion, with a B, so mayors like Gavin Newsom could get money to begin this program of weatherization and solarization in every city in America. That should be the number one priority for the entire country, and instead, it's being held up. You can do something about that. You could do something about that.

Number three: This fall, we are going to launch a massive campaign to accelerate the embrace by people in this country of green jobs. On September 27th we are going to have the biggest national mobilization for green jobs in the history of the country. We're going to have thousands of rallies, thousands of house meetings all across the country, calling for green jobs now. This movement for climate solutions is not just a movement about the crisis.

We know about the crisis. We know about the bad stuff. We're now going to start talking about the good stuff. That is going to be the key. Once people in the United States of America understand that this movement that we're trying to build is not just a movement to prevent something bad from happening -- this is the movement that will finally get the good things happening -- we think that we will be able to build a majority. Why?

We want to be able to tell people for the first time, guess what? This movement for climate solutions is the movement that you've been waiting for your whole life. Why? Because we want to tell your child, who might be standing on a street corner right now, with no future, your child ... who's probably gone to more funerals this year, if you live in urban America, than he's ever gone to graduations or proms.

We want to tell your child, guess what? We want to retrofit, reboot, repower a nation. And we need your help to do it. We want to give you the tools, and the training, and the technology, to rescue this country. We want to put the green hard hat on you ... tool belt, work boots. We want to put you up on a rooftop where you can install solar panels. Bring your grandmama's light bill down. We're tired of your grandmama sending checks to the PG&E and the power companies. We want them to write her a check. See? That's what we want. That's what this movement is about.

We want them to write her a check. We want to take the asthma inhaler out of your little sister's pocket, by closing down these dirty pollution power plants, and letting her run and play again.

We want to let you in on the ground floor of something that's going somewhere. This is not a dead end job at Wal-Mart. See, once you get in on the ground floor as a solar panel installer, doing green retrofits, this is going to be a growing industry. In a couple years you can be a manager, an owner yourself, and help to rebuild your community. We want to be able to go door to door in America and tell people that this is the movement that will create new work, new wealth, new health, new investments.

You see, cities, as Gavin said, 75 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, there is no way to beat global warming without greening the cities. You can't save the polar bear without saving the poor children, too. It's one movement. It's one movement, because it's one solution.

But that's the opportunity that we have. The opportunity that we have is to say for the first time, we have all this work that needs to be done. We have to build wind farms. We have to build wave farms. We have to build solar farms. We have to weatherize buildings. We have to put up solar panels. We have to plant trees, millions of them, and take care of them. Thousands of jobs. Millions of jobs. Billions of dollars of economic investment. This is the work that most needs to be done.

We have the opportunity to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done ... and fight pollution and poverty at the same time. And bring this country together, and bring the energy prices down, bring the jobs up. End forever the need for oil wars and resource wars, and bring this country together. That's a promise of this green jobs movement. And we need your active support to evangelize this as a solution. It's not just going to save the polar bears. It's not just going to save the poor kids. It's the only way to save the presidency of the United States.

We cannot afford to have two back-to-back failed presidencies in this country. The world can't afford it. The only way to save this new coming president ... people keep talking about his name, his middle name is a problem. We're worried about his middle name. Barack Hussein Obama. His middle name is not going to be Hussein if he wins this election. His middle name is going to be Piñata. He will be Barack Piñata Obama. (Laughter)

Trust me. You're going to have the right wing, not in the White House, not running anything in the White House, not running anything in the Senate, not running anything in the House. They're going to have nothing to do but run their mouths against this president. And they will ally themselves. They will try to create a backlash alliance against anything he does on the environment, a backlash alliance between polluters and poor people, to say that the green revolution is nothing but an eco-elite movement, trying to put green taxes on poor people to pay for their hybrid revolution.

It will be up to us to stand firm and proud and say no, no, no. This is not a movement we're going to do to poor people. We're going to do it for and with poor and vulnerable people to bring them up.

You left them behind, we didn't. You put them down, we didn't. That's what this movement is about. See, what you have to understand ... is that the fate of the world, the fate of the republic, the fate of the next president, the fate of the polar bears, the fate of low-income people and rural and urban America, and around the world, is not dependent on a technological breakthrough. We already have the technology. Enough sunlight falls on the earth in an hour to power everything in human civilization for a year. We already have the technology.

It's not a policy question. We already know the right policies. You've got to put a price on carbon, either with cap and trade or with carbon taxes. You have to move the government from being on the side of the problem makers in the economy to the problem solvers. But we know the policies. There are reams and reams of policies. It's not a policy breakthrough that's required. It's not a technological breakthrough that's required. It's not a business breakthrough that's required. It's a political breakthrough that's required. That's what's required.

We've got to get our politics right. How do we do that? When was the last time we had to do it? Last time the government was this far off track, the people were hurting this much, the new president named FDR, he proposed his New Deal. But he wasn't alone. He represented the New Deal Coalition. Check that. He represented the New Deal Coalition. It was farmers. It was union workers. It was progressive business people and bankers. It was minorities, it was students, it was intellectuals. There was a coalition. And that coalition picked up the government that had been on the side of the problem makers, and dumped it out, and put it down on the side of the people.

That's what this whole Netroots movement is ultimately going to be about. Everything you've done up until now has just been prologue. It's just been the preface. You've proven that you can be the opposition. You can't have a successful opposition movement without opposition media. And you've proven that you can: In a very short period of time, you've built an absolute counterweight to Fox and to Rush Limbaugh, everything the conservatives built up in 20 years, you were able to match and checkmate in four. It's a huge achievement in the history of human civilization.

You did that. You did that. If the republic will be saved, it's because of your efforts. That's true. But now you done messed up. Now you got a problem, because y'all about to win. (Laughter) And I feel sorry for you. (Laughter) Because now you have to prove that your ideas aren't just good for protesting, they're good for governing. See, this movement represents a hope.

But this country isn't just waiting for a movement that can critique it. The country is waiting for a movement that can inspire it. And that's your opportunity now, and your obligation. We ought to now figure out how we govern. What I want to say to you is that there is a green New Deal Coalition. There's a green growth alliance out there, waiting to be pulled together. But it can't see itself.

The best of our progressive business leaders are out there on their own. They're having to scratch and beg for a little tax credit extension for one year. They go year to year begging, our wind energy ... industry, our solar industry. They've got to beg every year just for a little bit of extension, just trying to keep alive their little companies.

Meanwhile, we've sent billions of billions of dollars to oil and coal, while they're making hand over fist. They need a movement. They've got the ideas. They need a political movement that can say, stop this government from being on the side of the problem makers, the polluters, the warmongers, the Pentagon, the people who get all the money. The government needs to be put on the side of the problem solvers. But they can't do it by themselves.

The young people in our country, and the rural areas, isolated, alone, doing meth, committing suicide ... the only option is to join the military, and they don't want to go. They don't know what to do. The same suicide epidemic that's killing our rural and suburban children, we have a homicide epidemic in urban America. They need somebody to tell them that there's a role for them, and a need for them, that they can be the heroes of this new solar age. But they can't figure out how to do that by themselves. Our labor leaders see their ranks dwindling in age. There's a future out there for them, a labor movement that's browner, that's greener, that's bigger, but they can't get there by themselves.

It's a young people's movement for climate solutions on the campuses, but it can't change the country from the campuses alone. How can we find each other? How can we help each other? How can we hear each other? How can we become a progressive governing majority, to build a green New Deal that will put this country back to work? Only if somebody can help us connect the dots on a daily basis and keep us from fighting each other, and falling out. And that's your job. That's your calling. That's your mission. So as I move to my close, I just want to say that there's been a lot of talk about your need to hold the new president accountable. I agree with that. Frankly, I think we've been putting too much faith and confidence in a president. My basic view is, we don't need the president to fix everything. We just need the president to stop breaking everything. That would be my first order of business.

But the challenge here, for you, is you have to figure out a way now, as you go from opposition to proposition, from protest to governance, how to hold somebody accountable, in a way that doesn't mean beating them accountable, kicking them accountable, spitting on them accountable. At some point we need to learn, as a movement, how we hold each other and keep each other accountable. That's our moral change.

How do we hold each other and keep each other accountable? I don't know how we do that, but at some point, as we enter this solar age, we've got to move from diesel to solar in our own movement. At some point it's got to not be just about pushing people and trying to force them to do the right thing. At some point, we've got to pull people forward by the beauty of our own vision, the clarity of our ideas, the power of our own positive agenda. That's our opportunity. So I want to say to you that we can afford now to think like that, to talk like that. Because it's our turn now. It's our turn now.

The people who told us they could bomb and torture our way to a peaceful world, they had their turn. ... It's our turn now. People who say we could drill and burn our way to a good environmental and energy outcome have had their turn. It's our turn now. The people who say they could borrow and spend their way to a healthy economy, they had their turn. It's our turn now, and I'm so proud of Gavin Newsom.

The people who said that we had to discriminate, the homophobes and the bigots that say we have to discriminate against people based on who they love, who said that we have to accept second- and first-class marriages. Some people could be married. Other people just have to settle for a union. Those people have had their turn. And all they did was divide our families. All they did was drive up suicide rates among our lesbian and gay questioning youth. All they did was create outcasts in the neighborhood. Those people have had their turn. They did it all in the name of family values. Well, let me tell you something. We've got family values. And our family values are very, very clear. Everybody in the family has value, and we're not going to mistreat people, and disrespect people anymore.

They've had their turn. It's our turn now. It's our turn now. It's our turn now. We're tired of it.

We're tired of people spreading hate in our community, dividing our families. We love our families. We love everybody. And it's our turn now. It's our turn.

And if we're just proud enough, we don't have to back down from nobody. They had their turn, and they messed it up. And we're going to spend 50 years cleaning up their mess. I feel sorry. Barack Obama, whoever is going to be the next president, assuming it's your nominee, is going to have to go in the White House, and it's going to be like cleaning out a barn with a straw. You know ... (Laughter) just ... (Laughter) I don't know why he even wants the job. (Laughter)

But we're going to clean it up, and we're going to fix it up. Forty years ago, this year, Bobby Kennedy was gunned down, sticking up for your agenda: peace and justice and opportunity. Forty years ago, this year, Dr. King was killed. Forty years. I was born that year, in 1968. Something died in this country. Still, you can feel the heartbreak in the country, 40 years later. People stopped believing, gave up hope. But not everybody. Many of you in this room have kept alive the candle of hope for all that time, and when it was most important, these last eight years, you relit the flame.

Now, as we go forward, sisters and brothers, a new day has come in this country. It didn't come automatically. You forced the new dawn with your own efforts. If we do our work right and well now, if we stand together, if we combine causes and look for shared solutions and common ground, we do our work right and well, we're going to do a lot more than we said we were going to do in 2004, 2006 when we said we were going to take back America.

If we stand together, we hold everybody, help everybody, move forward, this movement, when we look back, will be the movement that did more than take America back. For the first time in 40 years, your movement will be able to take America forward.

Van Jones is the founder and president of Green For All and is the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

 
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