Thursday, August 19, 2010

Thoughts on "The Green Collar Economy"


Remember Van Jones? He was a green jobs adviser for President Obama and got crucified over some political BS and was forced to resign in 2009.

I've recently had a chance to read his 2008 book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Solve Our Two Biggest Problems. The book has the idea of sustainability at its core. Namely, it is not enough to look at environmental problems in isolation. You have to look at them in conjunction with economic and social justice problems.

There is much to draw from in the book and I won't summarize it all here (better that you read it yourself). The thing that struck me the most was the idea that there is a gulf between the "mainstream environmental movement" which is largely middle-upper income and largely white, and how lower income people and many people of color view environmental problems. While middle class people might worry about global warming's effects on the polar bear (abstract, global problem) and try to reduce their impact with a Prius (new, somewhat expensive technology), lower income people might worry about the polluting factory in their neighborhood (local environmental problem), and their economic problems, and resolve these issues with green collar jobs: jobs that not only help the Earth, but also address the disproportionate environmental harms that disadvantaged communities face, and pay decent wages as well.

If these two groups can bridge the cultural gaps that divide them and work together, we could build a political coalition that could put the force of public policy behind the green revolution.

The key is finding ways to include the people who are being left behind by the current economy in the new green economy. Green can't be something just for the elite. It has to be mainstream and accessible to all.


  1. As the token white-guy-on-a-bus, I join you in disavowing the "mainstream environmental movement." So much of what's happening out there is people being "trendy" or corporate greenwashing.

    I'm reminded of Green LA Girl's schpiel on re-usable bags- apparently people collect them and keep them in garages, where they're environmentally MORE damaging than plastic bags... but they're trendy right now!

  2. That gap will always be there (between the pseudo greens and the people,) because the people with money want there to be a gap. If there is a gap nothing will ever get done. I don't think it's cultural. I think it's just corporate assholes throwing their money out and making the movement what they want to make it about.

    Half the environmentalists out there aren't even environmentalists, they have backgrounds in pr and marketing which is just like being a used car salesman that knows how to use grammar.

    When someone tells you they are in (have a background in) pr or marketing just walk away from them, because 99% of the things that will come out of their mouths will be lies.

    I'm so done with green, eco, organic, environmental....I'm so done with it. To be so hardcore about doing essentially nothing.

    (I always come to your blog when I'm working at home, so I'm always making 1000 typos, because I just want to comment real quick and go back to doing what I'm supposed to be doing!)

  3. I think the point Jones is making in the book, which I may not be explaining well, is that both middle class environmentalism (which he distinguishes from greenwashing) and working class environmentalism are important.

    The richer people can be early adopters of technologies that are expensive, which helps get those technologies to a point where more people can afford them. It's also good that somebody is thinking about organisms and ecosystems that cannot defend themselves. On the other hand, sometimes these people forget that not everyone has the luxury of worrying about things like polar bears suffering from climate change.

    On the other hand working class environmentalists who are more focused on local issues that impact their communities are sometimes reluctant to build bridges with people the perceive to be snooty or elitist.

    At some point Jones says something like we all have something inside ourselves that is holding back progress.

  4. I think the problem is that both movement both think that they can exist without the other and neither can. You need to be thinking about the ecosystem and people and you need to remember people are part of the ecosystem. It's hard for me to talk to social justice people, because they won't look at science and it's hard for me to talk to the environmental people because they view people as annoying bugs. I really can't buy into either party, because both groups have too much tunnel vision.

    I can talk about classism, economics, the environment, sexism, racism, and consumerism all in one breath and to me it's so easy it's not even something that I feel can be separated, it's all interrelated.

    "At some point Jones says something like we all have something inside ourselves that is holding back progress."