The Green Collar Economy - Part Two

green_collar_0526.jpgIn the second half of his new book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, Van Jones maps out a series of concrete plans for how a Green Collar economy can come about.

After he lays out the necessity of widespread pubic participation (from part one), Jones tips his hat to a slew of groups that are already doing good work on issues he deems important. It’s something of a laundry list of cool ideas being realized, from organizations like 1Sky to new media projects like The Story of Stuff, and Jones even takes time to highlight things like Chicago’s relationships with small Not-For-Profits and the way both city and business can gain from a green partnership.

However, Jones is forced to admit that the good work happening now is simply too small and too piecemeal to have a realistic chance at success. Thus, he suggests a much larger scale project for the next President of the United States: A Green New Deal.

“To solve our global problems, we need to engage and unleash the genius of all people, at all levels of society. Some of the minds that can solve our toughest problems are undoubtedly trapped behind prison bars, stuck behind desks in schools without decent books, or isolated in rural communities. A green economy that is designed to pull them in—as skilled laborers, innovators, inventors, and owners—will be more dynamic, more robust, and better able to save the Earth.”

This is the kind of scope that I find hugely exciting. A green project here or a green project there is fantastic, but the vital goal is to create a system big enough to actually affect Global Warming. The New Deal was successful because of the general willingness to try things until something worked, and because there was a full buy in from nearly every level of society. Van Jones argues that our current energy solution needs that same type of full court press to halt the ecological slide, to say nothing of the potential a Green Collar economy has to awaken a huge economic beast (new cars, new systems, new power, new infrastructure) that could catapult America back into the technological and production forefront of the world and reclaim some part of the oft cited notion of American exceptionalism.

Since the book was written, a few events have shifted to make its contents even more relevant and its proposals even more plausible. First, last week’s election has put someone in the Whitehouse who is much more attuned to the Green Collar economy then the former occupant. Barack Obama has already worked with big picture Green Collar organizations like the Apollo Alliance, and he is exactly the sort of leader that Van Jones calls for in his description of Government involvement.

Second, the economic crisis has made references to the New Deal something to actually consider instead of something to be scoffed at. After all, it’s only when the country is face to face with real economic crisis that it starts casting around for big picture ideas.

Just like the original New Deal, a green version is going to take everyone chipping in. Van Jones imagines a charge led by the government, but one that continues to relay on entrepreneurs and Not-for-Profits to be the leaders in creating blueprints for everyone else to follow. It's not always easy, when one is thinking on the scale of economic overhaul, to see where an individual fits into the system. The highest praise that I can give The Green Collar Economy, then, is that it both remains hopeful in its dream of a big picture solution, while also offering actual tangible goals for the individual turning its pages.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:00 AM, Nov 12, 2008 in Economic Development | Environment | Nonprofit Management | Peace and Justice | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment