Van Jones, a friend of the blog and leading environmental advocate, is no stranger to making provocative statements. It was his insistence in 2008 that America was on the verge of a green jobs revolution that pushed him into the national spotlight. And it was a flap led by Glenn Beck about Jones’ controversial associations with anti-government groups that led Jones to lose his job in the Obama administration.
But now Jones is at it again, urging us on to another green jobs moment and arguing in his riveting and excellent new book, Rebuild the Dream, for a new look at environmental momentum to push our economic recovery. From the book:
We seem to forget that everything that is good for the environment is a job. Solar panels don’t put themselves up. Wind turbines don’t manufacture themselves. Houses don’t retrofit themselves and put in their own new boilers and furnaces and better-fitting windows and doors. Advanced biofuel crops don’t plant themselves. Community gardens don’t tend themselves. Farmers’ markets don’t run themselves. Every single thing that is good for the environment is actually a job, a contract, or an entrepreneurial opportunity.
A reasoned and seasoned argument that seems to have been forgotten over the past few years as we’ve weathered such tenuous economic times. But there’s reason to think it worthwhile. According to a report from the Department of Labor last month, there are now 3.1 million green jobs in the U.S., a number arrived at using strict definitions of output based jobs (producing enviro friendly products) and service based jobs (a recycling worker at a manufacturing plant, for instance). The number amounts to 2.4 percent of the nation’s total workforce. And it’s about three-fifths of the way to President Obama’s campaign promise of creating 5 million green jobs (he didn’t create all 3.1 million, but still).
One sobering point here is that green jobs may not be entirely the dog’s woof. Sure there are a lot of them (and growing), but lots of new jobs doesn’t always mean great things for the planet. We live in an output-based economy centered on consumption, so new jobs essentially mean more stuff: more refrigerators built to replace the old ones, new equipment in factories to use less energy, more trash produced to transition to cleaner jobs. You get the idea.
We’re all for reducing energy use and becoming more efficient. But it’s worth nothing that it’s not exactly a painless process. We have to use a more stuff before we start using less. And that’s a point, unfortunately, that Jones glosses over.