The Green Collar Economy

How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems

CAP Senior Fellow Van Jones' new book explains how one solution can fix our two biggest problems—energy and the economy.

SOURCE: book cover

“We can’t drill and burn our way out of our problems. But we CAN invent and invest our way out.”
—Van Jones

About the book

About Van Jones

Advance praise for the book

Facts from the book

Purchase the book

About the book

In The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, acclaimed activist and environmental leader Van Jones tackles the challenges of oil dependence, a sagging economy, and global warming itself, transforming these looming threats into enormous financial opportunities.

Jones gives voice to a different kind of environmentalism, one deeply rooted in the lives and struggles of ordinary people. It’s not about green consumers; it’s about green workers and bringing the environmental movement to the working class. The message of The Green Collar Economy is clear: “Give the work that most needs to be done to the people who most need the work,” solving two pressing problems—pollution and poverty—at once. In turn, you provide people with not just a paycheck, but also a purpose. Like FDR’s New Deal, Jones’s plan involves the government putting people to work for the benefit of the economy. In this “New Green Deal,” workers will be employed to install solar panels, harness wind power, build hybrid engines, etc., which will create a green collar workforce.

Van Jones brings a fresh perspective to these crucial issues. As an African-American father and Yale-educated attorney, he has spent his adult life fighting for the planet and its people. He recently worked successfully with Congress to pass the Green Jobs Act of 2007. That historic legislation authorized $125 million in funding to train 35,000 people for jobs in the environmental sector.

Rachel Carson’s 1963 landmark book Silent Spring was the pivotal ecological examination of the last century. Now, rising above the impenetrable debate over the environment and the economy, The Green Collar Economy delivers a timely and essential call to action for a new century.

About Van Jones

Van Jones is the founder and president Green For All, a national organization dedicated to building an inclusive, green economy, strong enough to lift millions of people out of poverty. Jones is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. As an advocate for the toughest urban constituencies and causes, he has won many honors, including the Rockefeller Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellowship. Jones is also cofounder and board president of The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California. The center promotes alternatives to violence and incarceration, including a successful “Books Not Bars” campaign that has helped reduce California’s overall youth prison population by more than 30 percent. He recently gave a number of keynote addresses at the Democratic National Convention. Jones has been featured in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Business Week, and has been interviewed on Fox News, CNN-TV, Tavis Smiley, and the Colbert Report.

A 1993 Yale Law graduate, Jones lives in Oakland, California with his wife and two sons.

Advance praise for the book

“Can we really outgreen poverty and pollution at the same time? Jones makes a strong and impassioned case that we can.” —Thomas Friedman

“Van Jones has a unique ability to inspire people of all colors, classes, and generations to uplift vulnerable people, while protecting our vulnerable planet. His sparkling intelligence, powerful vision, and deep empathy are all on full display in The Green Collar Economy.” —Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives

“Once in a very long while, a truly original voice enters our national political discussion–and changes the conversation for the better. By breaking through the old ‘jobs versus the environment’ stalemate, Van Jones does just that. The Green Collar Economy lets us envision a world in which the Earth and everyday people both thrive.” — Senator Tom Daschle

“Van Jones represents a new generation of environmental leader – one who sees the Greening of America as both a moral imperative and a nuts and bolts economic issue. He sees within the stark reality of An Inconvenient Truth the potential for a healthier, more prosperous, and more socially-just future. His passion, intelligence, and idealism shine through every page of this must-read book.” — Arianna Huffington

“In The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones turns conventional environmentalism on its head. This book is less about green consumers – more about green workers. It’s less about our private choices as individuals – more about our collective action as citizens. It’s less about building hybrid cars – more about building a hybrid political movement, one that can fuse together our best social and ecological solutions. Watch out: this book could change everything.” — Larry Brilliant,

“As the Earth warms and the oceans rise, the civil and human rights agenda must expand. In the wake of Katrina and Rita, we must focus on equal protection from environmental disasters. And as solar and wind industries take off, our jobs agenda must embrace these new opportunities. No one has worked harder to level the playing field in the rapidly growing green economy than Van Jones.” — Ben Jealous, President, NAACP

“The baton is passed to climate advocate Van Jones who clearly sees that our future must be green and must include everyone. His powerful new book The Green Collar Economy shows us how to accomplish it.” — Laurie David, global warming activist

“It’s rare that someone with such a gift for speaking is able to convey the energy and excitement of his message equally well in writing. With The Green Collar Economy, Van Jones surpasses all expectations. The country seriously needs his take on the environment and the economy.” — Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco

“Van Jones reminds us that the worst of times can also be the best of times—that a nation with an abundance of resources it’s wasting—beginning with its youth —has an enormous opportunity to stop foolishly bankrupting itself by chasing resources it is running out of, such as oil. We also have lots of ingenuity, engineering talent, wind, and sun —put them together and we have a powerful tomorrow.” — Carl Pope, Executive Director Sierra Club

“Van Jones’ authentic and passionate arguments trump the status quo. In The Green Collar Economy he holds the welfare of our neediest people front and center as he lays out a viable plan for the remainder of the 21st century.” — Tavis Smiley, author, television and radio host

“Pay attention: we are witnessing the debut of a major American voice.” — Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest

“Around the world, people of African descent are creating exciting, new environmental movements: from Kenya’s Wangari Maathai to the South Bronx’s Majora Carter. To that list, we now can add a new name: Van Jones. In The Green-Collar Economy, he shows how ‘green’ can be good for people of ALL colors. “ — Kerry Washington, actor

“In The Green-Collar Economy, Van Jones has penned a working man’s manifesto for the solar age. When green solutions finally catch on among everyday folks, Van and this book will deserve the lion’s share of the credit.” — Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus

“The Green Collar Economy is a both a rallying call and a road map for how we can save the planet, reduce our dependency on budget-busting fossil fuels, and bring millions of new jobs to America. Van Jones shows how climate solutions can turbocharge the ailing U.S. economy. So what are we waiting for?” — Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense Fund President

“Brother Van Jones is a visionary who spells out real solutions in black and white—and, of course, green. Van’s vision of a thriving, green economy doesn’t have throw-away things or throw-away people. It’s the kind of environmentalism everyone can get behind.” — Mario Van Peebles, actor and producer, Mario’s Green House

Facts from the book

  • If we are going to beat global warming, we are going to have to weatherize millions of buildings, install millions of solar panels, manufacture millions of wind turbine parts, build plug-in hybrid vehicles, and construct thousands of solar farms, wind farms and wave farms. That will require thousands of contracts and millions of jobs—producing billions of dollars in economic stimulus.
  • If people in California want to have solar panels installed in their homes, there is a 2-6 month waiting period. Why? There are not enough people trained to do the work. We are experiencing a labor shortage in the middle of a recession. The major barriers to a more rapid adoption of renewable energy and energy efficiency are not financial, technical, or ideological. The biggest problem is simply that employers can’t find enough trained workers to do the work. Hundreds of thousands of workers are needed now to make every building in the country energy efficient.
  • Green collar jobs are the 2.0 version of old-fashioned blue-collar jobs, upgraded to respect the Earth and meet the environmental challenges of today. Green collar jobs are not high-tech and futuristic. The emerging green economy is not about George Jetson with a jet pack, but rather Joe Sixpack, with a hardhat and a lunch bucket, ready to install solar panels in every home in his neighborhood. The most important piece of technology in the green economy will be a caulk gun.
  • Most green-collar jobs are middle-skill jobs. That means they require more education than high school, but less than a four year degree. These jobs are within reach for lower-skilled and low-income workers, as long as they have access to effective training programs. These jobs are the first step on a pathway to economic self-sufficiency. This type of work is difficult if not impossible to outsource. You can’t pick up a house, ship it to China to have solar panels installed, and then have it shipped back.
  • Government mandated and subsidized ethanol from corn will go down in history as the “Iraq war” of environmental solutions: ill-considered, costly, and disastrous. In a world full of hungry people, burning food should be criminally punished—not financially subsidized.
  • Fewer than 3 percent of trips are made by public transit. If we increased that number to 10 percent of all trips (about the European level), we could reduce our dependence on oil by more than 40 percent, which is nearly as much oil as we import from Saudi Arabia every year.
  • As a result of the ten pounds that the average US citizen gained in the 1990s, the airline industry has burned more than 350 million additional gallons of fuel per year.
  • For the first time in human history, more people on Earth live inside of cities than outside of them. Urban settlements cover only about 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, but they consume more than 75 percent of the Earth’s resources and produce 75 percent of the Earth’s waste (including air and water pollution).
  • We cannot drill and burn our way out of our present economic and energy problems. We can, however, invent and invest our way out. We have many, many technologies— from solar panels to wind turbines—that are ready to go. Coastline drilling will just give us slick and slimy beaches—but no relief at the gas pump. There really is no such thing as "American oil" anymore. Multi-national corporations will do the drilling, keep on sending 40 percent of U.S. oil overseas and reaping record profits. Those corporations will have the right to sell to India and China every drop of oil from America’s coastlines, if those countries are willing to pay one penny more per barrel.
  • Fossil fuels are a finite resource, doing infinite damage. As long as we rely on fossil fuels to power our society, our economy is at risk for stagflation—and our planetary home is at risk, too. Rather than continue to base our economy on a finite supply of dead things (like oil) we can base it on sources that are both infinite and eternal: the sun, the moon, and the Earth’s inner fire. Enough solar energy falls on the Earth’s surface in one day to power all of human civilization for a year. And below the Earth’s surface, our planet is alive with heat and power.
  • The U.S. government continues to give huge tax breaks and payouts to the oil, gas, and coal industries; meanwhile, the fledgling solar and wind industries are left to beg each year—just to get extensions of their modest tax credits.
  • Three of the five largest commercial hazardous waste landfills in the United States are located in predominantly Black or Hispanic communities. It is not too early to sound the alarm against the possibility of eco-apartheid.
  • A green economy is not just about reclaiming thrown-away stuff, but also about reclaiming thrown-away lives. Not just about recycling materials for a second life, but also about gathering up people—the at-risk youth, veterans coming home from war, people living in poverty—and giving them a second chance.
  • To create a green collar economy we must bring together not just the relatively affluent people who worry about ice caps melting, rainforests disappearing, and polar bears drowning as a result of global warming, but also people of more modest means who worry about local environmental problems like dirty air, polluted water, childhood asthma rates, and lack of access to fresh food. Even though the less wealthy may not consider themselves environmentalists, they have the means and capacity to push for important environmental changes at the local level.

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