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Van Jones: There is a way to fight poverty and pollution at the same time

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Poverty and Climate Change
Sharmini Peries talks with Van Jones

SHARMINI PERIES, JOURNALIST, TRNN: Welcome, everyone. I’m at the big tent at the DNC in Denver, and I’m joined by Van Jones, who is a leader in the rapidly growing global environmental movement. And today he’s focused on what is going to be happening at the DNC and the growing environmental movement in this country, who’s got a few questions to pose to Barack Obama. Thank you for joining me, Van.

VAN JONES, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: I don’t have any questions for Barack Obama—I have suggestions for him. I don’t have questions. If you ask too many questions, they’ve got the power. The community has the power. But we’ve got some great suggestions.

PERIES: Tell me about the suggestions.

JONES: Well, I think the most important thing that Senator Obama can do is to let people know that there is a way to fight pollution and poverty at the same time. Two biggest problems in the country right now: we’ve got the economy going down, mainly because of energy prices, but we’ve been in a longer-term crisis even beyond that; and we’ve got global warming and the reality of peak oil and peak water. And how do you solve the ecological crisis and the economic crisis? The way you do it is with green jobs. We want to take our cities—you can’t beat global warming if you don’t green the cities, ’cause 75 percent of your global warming problem is cities trucking food in, leaking buildings, traffic. If you green your cities, you can beat global warming, but you can also beat poverty. You can begin to bring communities back, weatherizing, solarizing, planting trees, manufacturing wind turbines, manufacturing and fabricating solar panels, bringing food closer to the plate, rooftop gardening. All these things are good for people, they’re good for the planet, and they’re good for the price of energy, ’cause they begin to bring energy prices down because you’ve cut demand for energy. And that’s the way forward. That would be our suggestion.

PERIES: Do you think some of these measures will be more difficult to achieve in a economic crisis, in a period in which we are going into a recession?

JONES: I do think that we’ve got some challenges that we wouldn’t have had otherwise in a recession. You have more people who are looking for work, so it makes it hard to get the wages up. It’s also hard to get new people into the job market. You have people who have been employed before who are now looking for jobs, so it’s harder to grow the green economy to bring in new workers, and then you may just be doing musical chairs with the existing workforce in a recession. Also, with energy prices going up, some of the Newt Gingriches of the world are starting to get people excited about doing climate-destroying measures, taking us back on environmental issues, you know, drill the coastline, throw away America’s beauty chasing the last drop of oil. So we do have some challenges, and that’s why we need real leadership, and not just the top-down leadership from a new president, but also the bottom-up leadership in communities.

PERIES: In terms of change and moving forward, at the DNC there’s going to be a speech by Al Gore, and he’s going to be speaking about his recent platform on the environment of zero carbon in ten years. Tell me a little bit more about that for our audience.

JONES: Well, I mean, I think, you know, the courage of Al Gore can’t be overstated. He had history drop a big ton of bricks on him in 2000. A lot of people would have never gotten back up. He wound up not only helping to reinvent media with Current TV, he’s also become a major mover in clean energy. He, you know, helped out with Google and a bunch of other big folks in Silicon Valley. And he’s changed the global discussion on global warming—such a huge contribution. He could have walked away with the Nobel Prize. Instead, he doubled down again, and not only did he bring forward a hard-to-hear problem, he’s now bringing forward a hard-to-hear solution. But it is the only solution that makes sense if you listen to what the world’s scientists are saying. It used to be you could say, “Oh, well, 80 percent by 2050, 80 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.” That’s what the science was saying a year ago. What you’re seeing now is that the numbers are getting worse, and they’re getting worse faster. The ice is melting faster. You know, with India and China beautifully standing up and trying to grow their economy and bring people out of poverty, the greenhouse gas emissions continue to go up. Europe and the United States have not cut our emissions. So we’ve got to do something dramatic, and I think that Al Gore’s put forward the best challenge to America: a 10-year time horizon to completely reboot and retrofit a nation—the call that can bring us together across lines of class and color. And I’m glad we have world-class leadership in Al Gore to bring that to the public attention.

PERIES: Do you think Barack Obama would be wise to appoint Al Gore into a key position to advance environmental policy in this country?

JONES: Well, I mean, I think that obviously vice president Gore will have to figure out where he wants to be. I think he’s showing a good place for himself right now outside of an administration—he has probably more freedom to speak the truth, both about the problem and the solution. I think what president-elect and president Barack Obama would be wise to do is to listen to the world’s scientists. Mother Nature is not bargaining with anybody; she’s not negotiating with anybody; she doesn’t care how many votes are in the Senate; she doesn’t care, you know, how many governors, you know, want to go this way or that way. She’s not bargaining. We have had almost a 9/11 worth of economic damage to this country every quarter based on wacky weather. You had Iowa underwater, Arkansas underwater. You now have a 12-month fire season in California. We had a tornado walk down the middle of the street in Atlanta—never happened before. We’re having wacky weather episodes that are as costly and as damaging as the direct damage from 9/11 every quarter. It’s time that US leadership face up to the fact that the only wise course now is to do a rapid redesign of our energy system in this country. We can put millions of people to work doing that. We can lead the world. Any other course is heading straight for disaster.

PERIES: Are you content with the DNC’s platform on the environment?

JONES: Well, I’m never content with anything, because even if we had the perfect platform, you still have to [implement it]. I think that the Democratic Party is moving in the right direction. I think a lot of the ideas that fueled the Nader candidacy in 2000 are now being addressed, at least by some wings and some parts of the Democratic Party. But the bottom line is it’s not the platform, it’s the people, and politics is only one expression of the people’s sentiment. We can vote every day with our dollars. We can win every day by, at the grassroots level, insisting that our own cities move in a carbon-neutral direction, insisting that our own community colleges create green-collar job training programs for our young kids, so we aren’t taking poor kids and putting them in the back of the line for the last century’s pollution-based jobs. We could be putting them in the front of the line for the new clean and green jobs of the future. Those are the kinds of things we can all do in our own communities. It’s no longer just about the individual consumer choice; it’s about the community collective action, what we can do as citizens and community members together, as well as what we can do with individual consumers. We have to build a green economy that’s strong enough to lift millions of people out of poverty. It’s not just about Apple and people spending money on cool gadgets; it’s about ordinary people earning money in a big, green economy.

PERIES: Okay, Van, one last question to you. We have a large number of multinational corporations and big business stepping up for the call on resolving our environmental issues, and stepping up to the call of innovation, and having their bags open in terms of grants that the government is ready to offer in terms of innovations and solutions to the environmental crisis. Yet these are some of the very people who got us in the trouble we are in now. And do you think this is a good move? And do you think that, if Senator Barack Obama is elected president, this would be a direction that he should pursue?

JONES: Well, it’s a quandary. We obviously want for the green capital to beat the gray capital. So we want those wonderful people in Silicon Valley and Cambridge who are really, you know, truly committed to ecological solutions, and all across the country—Colorado, Washington State, Oregon—to prevail. And at the same time, the legacy, pollution-based economy is still with us, and the captains of those dirty industries are still with us. It’s hard to imagine them going out of business tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine them doing what they’re doing forever. So they are going to have to move in a green direction—and that’s going to be very uncomfortable for a lot of us—and say, “Look, you guys were the people who led us into this crisis; now you want to be the ones leading us out.” And yet, when you think about what are the alternatives, I don’t think that we’re going to be putting handcuffs on the CEOs of Exxon and other corporations any time soon. We probably need some of their wisdom and some of their insight to fix some of these energy problems. So I think that at the end of the day we’re going to see green capital rise and you’re going to see gray capital going green. Some of it will be dishonest—we have to be very vigilant about that. But my fundamental view is that the future for the US economy is going to be more labor-intensive, more people would work, greener, more inclusive, and there will be killer apps in the energy sector that do knock out [inaudible] and polluters.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Van Jones is a social entrepreneur, CNN political contributor, and founder of the Love Army -- a values based movement that is working for an America where everyone counts. Jones has also founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice from The Dream Corps to The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.