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Van Jones: “Greening the Ghetto?”

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Van Jones/Flickr Creative Commons/By mari-posa

I turned straight to Elizabeth Kolbert’s profile of Van Jones, the Oakland-based green jobs advocate who says tackling climate change can reduce urban poverty, in this week’s New Yorker. There’s no doubt that Jones is an incredibly persuasive speaker and one of the first to make the predominately white and affluent environmental movement relevant to underemployed young black males.

“I think Van Jones is a big part of the future of environmentalism,” Gus Speth, the dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me. “He, more than anyone else, is bringing together a concern about the environment and a concern about social justice. And, if I had just one thing to say, it is that we in the environmental movement cannot fail Van Jones.”

But the jury is still out. Unfortunately those jobs in solar and wind haven’t materialized yet, and some economists suggest that addressing climate change (through a carbon tax on fossil fuels) could in fact disproportionally hurt poor families. Congress approved a Clean Energy Jobs Bill, at Jones’ behest, but the $125 million for such job training has yet to be appropriated.

And will Obama’s economic stimulus plan promote green jobs or primarily traditional projects, such as highway expansion?

I wrote briefly about Van Jones on community colleges/green jobs here:
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Community Colleges Are Key to ‘Green’ Jobs,
Speaker Says
Austin, Tex.
Straddling the divide between government and industry, community colleges play a pivotal role in pushing our
fossil-fuel-dependent economy toward a reliance on renewable energy, the environmental activist Van Jones
said in an opening address to the National Council for Workforce Education conference here on Sunday.
“You are the fulcrum on which this whole transition is going to be made,” Mr. Jones told a throng of
community-college educators, who broke into applause.
Community colleges are key to Mr. Jones’s sustainability priorities because the new jobs in solar- and
wind-power installation and green construction will require more than a high-school education but less than a
four-year degree, he said.
A community organizer in Oakland, Calif., Mr. Jones advocates for millions of new environmental jobs to
both combat global warming and lift underemployed people out of poverty. He is a ubiquitous presence on the
sustainability circuit, particularly since his book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our
Two Biggest Problems (HarperOne) hit the shelves this month. He is also a scheduled keynote speaker at the
Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference, in November.
A Glitch in the System
Solar-panel installation is a low-skilled “green collar” job that has the most immediate demand for workers,
Mr. Jones said. In Marin County, California, he said, a lack of manpower means residents wait months just to
have their photovoltaic cells hooked up. The cells convert solar energy into electricity.
“Somehow there’s a glitch in the system where we can’t commit the people who most need work with the
work that needs to be done,” said Mr. Jones, who is a Yale Law School graduate and senior fellow with the
Center for American Progress. That’s where the community colleges come in.
Founded in 2005, his “Green Jobs, Not Jails” movement is working with Laney College, in Oakland, Calif.,
this fall to start training 40 at-risk adults in solar installation and green construction.
Manufacturing the thousands of machine parts that make up a wind turbine could likewise help rehabilitate
the chronically depressed economy in Michigan, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate, having
shed nearly 500,000 jobs since 2000, according to the State Legislature.
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“You could put Detroit back to work not making SUV’s to destroy the world but wind turbines to save the
world,” Mr. Jones said, drawing an enthusiastic response from the numerous conference attendees from
Michigan’s community colleges.
But until industry demonstrates more demand for green workers, many community colleges will be hard
pressed to add new programs. Even in sunny Florida, the solar-installation jobs have not yet materialized, Jeff
J. Stevenson, the chief economic-development officer at Gulf Coast Community College, in Panama City,
said after Mr. Jones’s speech. That’s because solar technology is still much costlier than coal and unreliable in
indirect sunlight, Mr. Stevenson said.
A similar situation faces Macomb Community College, outside Detroit. The college would eagerly expand its
program in hydrogen fuel-cell technology. But the Big Three automakers have not yet embraced the
technology as a commercially viable alternative energy source, said James O. Sawyer, vice provost of
Macomb’s career programs.
Welfare, the Streets, or Prison
Community colleges must also first ensure that students succeed in developmental mathematics and literacy
programs so more can advance to course work and jobs in those emerging fields, said Kay M. McClenney,
director of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.
“If we don’t do developmental education, both unapologetically and exceedingly well, those students are not
going to go on to green-collar jobs or anything other than welfare, the streets, or prison,” she said.
Mr. Jones advised his audience to develop green-collar sectors through strong partnerships with employers,
particularly the utility companies, and legislators.
“The worst thing we can do is overtrain, passing out a lot of certificates but no green jobs,” he said. “You
don’t want to train 1,000 people for four jobs.”
Laura McCandlish, a former reporter at The Sun, in Baltimore, who now lives in Corvallis, Ore., is an
associate fellow in a program sponsored by the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media to support
in-depth coverage of community colleges.
Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
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Print: Community Colleges Are Key to ‘Green’ Jobs, Speakers Say – Chron……
2 of 2 10/22/2008 11:10 AM

Written by baltimoregon

January 14, 2009 at 12:37 am

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