Van Jones: A Welcome Return for a Green Jobs Visionary

On Tuesday, Van Jones announced he will be joining the Center for American Progress and taking a teaching position at Princeton University. On Friday, he will also receive the NAACP’s President Award for his remarkable achievements.

I am thrilled that Jones will once again have a prominent position from which he can influence the economic and clean energy debates. America needs his vision for green jobs now more than ever.

At a time when climate change continues unchecked and Americans are struggling to support their families, Jones has pioneered a solution that can address both challenges at once: green jobs.

These are jobs that put Americans to work weatherizing homes, installing solar panels, manufacturing wind turbines, and assembling clean, efficient cars. Jobs that help us cut dangerous pollution and reduce our reliance on foreign oil.

The concept of green jobs has now entered the mainstream, but Jones was its original champion.

After working for years in Oakland to help young people stay out of jail, he began focusing on how to provide enduring jobs that could offer people dignity and a path out of poverty. This mission dovetailed with his growing alarm at the way ecological disaster hit the poor and people of color “first and worst.”

Jones realized that green jobs--jobs that paid well and helped build America’s renewable energy resources--were the answer. He founded the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, which became one of the country’s first job training programs dedicated to preparing low-income people for jobs in the clean energy industry.

Since then, Jones vision has taken hold. Business leaders, senators, and community activists alike view green jobs as a potent answer to the current unemployment crisis. With Jones’ input, the Obama administration built the economic stimulus around green job opportunities in renewable power and public transit. Meanwhile, economists have determined that passing a clean energy and climate bill would create nearly 2 million of the green jobs Jones has promoted.

Still, we have a long way to go before we realize the full potential of green jobs. That is why we need Jones back in action. Jones left his previous post as White House Council on Environmental Quality after Glenn Beck led a nasty smear campaign against him.

I am relieved that he has rejoined the national debate, because we need his leadership and on-the-ground experience in order to pass the laws that will create millions of green jobs.  

Jones knows we need a broad national commitment. He has said, “Some people think that if we just pass the right law, that then there will be magical green fairies that will come around with little wands and put up all the solar panels and everything will be fine. No. People have to be trained to do that work. That is skilled labor.”

Jones has concrete ideas for how people can get the training they need to build a cleaner energy future for America. In his new positions, he will advocate for “green enterprise zones” that promote clean energy development in inner city and rural areas--from Watts to Appalachia, as he says. He will also campaign for a tough national renewable energy standard and a “Home Star” program that would offer incentives to make homes more energy efficient.

As lawmakers bicker over climate solutions and pass only a very modest jobs bill, Jones is cutting through the noise with real-world solutions. I am glad to have him back in the conversation.