Foglio's Field Notes

Leif Utne's random rants, musings and meditations

Van Jones for Green Jobs Czar?

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powershift-09-van-jonesI’ve been sitting on this story for two weeks, but the green blogs are suddenly abuzz with the rumor that Van Jones may be appointed the White House’s new “Green Jobs Czar.” (See here, there, there, and elsewhere.) So I guess I’ll add what I know.

A close mutual friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells me that Jones has passed the requisite FBI background check, and is set to assume the new post of “White House Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation” on March 16. Jones would be in charge of doling out the half-billion dollars in the recent economic stimulus package that is destined for areas like conservation, energy efficiency and clean tech development. He would also be an influential voice in the debate over how the $80 billion for clean energy in the stimulus package is spent.

[UPDATE: Kate Sheppard at Grist quotes an anonymous source close to Jones who says that “‘green jobs czar’ is an overstatement.”]

I can’t imagine a more appropriate pick for this job than the author of the recent book The Green Collar Economy and president of the Oakland-based group Green for All, whose slogan, “building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty,” should be adopted by Obama himself. And it’s a fitting trajectory for someone who has been beating the green jobs drum for four years. (I interviewed Van for Utne Reader in June 2005 during the UN Green Cities Summit, when he was taking the “green-collar jobs” meme out for an early road-test.)

Hopefully government work won’t require Jones to tone down his fiery rhetorical style. His ability to cast his environmental justice mission in stark moral terms — “do we want eco-apartheid or eco-equity?” — should be seen as an asset by the White House, even if it makes some of the suits on Capitol Hill squirm. And he has an amazing gift for connecting with audiences that might not agree with him on everything. He reportedly had a crowd of evangelical Christians in L.A. so fired up about their religious duty to protect God’s creation they were practically writhing on the floor speaking in green tongues.

Some cynics are questioning whether Jones should take the job, suggesting that he might be more effective on the outside than in government. That thought had crossed my mind, too. But despite his rock-star status among progressive enviros, he’s not yet a household name like Al Gore, who I honestly believe really is more effective where he sits now than he would be in the White House. (An Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize wouldn’t hurt, either.) Would conservative leaders like Paul Wolfowitz or John Bolton have been more effective at advancing their agendas during the Bush years if they had stayed on the sidelines, speaking at conferences and pumping out policy papers for think-tanks? I think not. Government is exactly where Van Jones should be.

The optimist in me has to wonder, too, if Jones’s appointment isn’t a sign that president Obama may be backing away from his support for so-called “clean” coal. In his keynote speech at the PowerShift ’09 conference (see video below), which brought 12,000 young climate activists to DC to lobby Congress for green jobs and clean energy, Jones said: “There is no such thing as the tooth fairy. There is no such thing as unicorns. And there is no such thing as ‘clean’ coal.” (download audio)

Van, the world’s been waiting a long time for you.

Written by leifutne

March 9, 2009 at 3:20 pm

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