Van Jones: How to Win the Green Energy Fight

Isaiah J. Poole

It’s not just the country’s energy usage that has to urgently move from fossil fuels to new, sustainable energy sources, environmental and social justice activist Van Jones told Netroots Nation participants. The progressive movement itself, he said, has to go “from diesel to solar” in mobilizing the public and political leaders to action.

“We are getting our butts kicked by this drill, drill, drill” mantra from the right, Jones said, and progressives are going to have to move quickly to present the alternative as a win-win for all Americans, rather than the right-wing caricature of policies that will merely drive up costs to satisfy the whims of an elite.

Jones said that progressives need to couple a call for a crash program to switch away from fossil fuels—embodied by Vice President Al Gore’s call for a 10-year program to end fossil fuel consumption—with his Green for All program that emphasizes turning the switch to renewable energy into a massive jobs and economic revitalization program.

Jones recently toured the disappearing ice sheets of the Arctic with President Jimmy Carter and a group that included oil industry executives and people from the faith community. He said that the people who were on the trip, regardless of their political ideology, were convinced by the end of the trip that global warming needed urgent attention.

But Jones also reminded the audience that Carter tried to rally the nation around a clean energy and conservation agenda in the late 1970s, only to see his popularity collapse in a lethal combination of inflation and stagnant economic growth—“stagflation.”

Jones said the same toxic economic brew—sharply rising inflation and sluggish economic growth—could quickly undo Sen. Barack Obama just as it did Carter if he wins the White House. Only this time, the consequences could be much more dire.

“If we are not careful, if we are not smart, this could be the precursor to a right-wing backlash that would make us miss John McCain, Make us miss George W. Bush,” Jones said.

The elements of that backlash are already being put in place. Jones noted an alliance of “polluters and poor people” is already being incubated by the right. One of the front men of that alliance is Roy Innis, the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, a 1960s civil rights organization that quickly turned into a shill for right-wing causes.

To blunt that backlash, Jones urged bloggers to pressure Congress to act on two bills that are currently stuck in legislative limbo. The Green Jobs Act and a green jobs block grant bill would unlock funding that would create thousands of jobs in clean energy and conservation projects. Most of these jobs would be in the urban areas that produce 75 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Jones is also seeking support for a fall campaign to accelerate the embrace of the country for green jobs. On September 27, Jones plans the largest-ever national mobilization for green jobs. This will not simply focus on the climate crisis. “This is a movement that will finally get the good things happening,” he said, one that will show how solar panel installation, for example, would mean that low-income people would no longer be saddled with high energy bills. This is a movement that will tell people in inner-city communities that “we want to put the green hard hat on you,” Jones said.

“We’ve got to move from diesel to solar” within the progressive movement, Jones said. Rather than pushing politicians on the issue of climate change and renewable energy, progressives need to pull them forward “by the beauty of our own vision, by the power of our own agenda.”

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