Book Review: The Green Collar Economy

>> Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
by Van Jones

Rating: *****

Van Jones proposes that establishing a strong green collar economy is the solution for both the climate change crisis and the economic crisis. His subject is timely as the economy continues to stagnate, prices continue to rise, and the effects of climate change become more and more evident. Ironically, Jones notes in his afterword that when he first began writing the book, "very few people had heard the term 'green collar job'," but by the time the book was published, it was a political buzzword.

I've been seeing this book mentioned all over the Internet, and at first I thought, "That is not a book that would interest me." I figured it would be a heavy read full of economic jargon (read: boring). I don't know why I had that impression because I was completely wrong. Just shy of 200 pages, this book is brisk and pleasant, but at the same time, thought-provoking and inspirational.

Jones proposes that to revive the collapsing economy, the government should establish a Green New Deal by building up the green collar jobs sector in energy, food, waste, water, and transportation. He details how investment in each category would lead to thousands of jobs in technology and labor, and as an added benefit, we would save the planet. Some examples:

  • A group in Milwaukee has come up with a way "to retrofit practically every building in the city to save money and put lots of people to work...Property owners or renters (with landlords' cooperation) receive an audit listing all conservation measures that can be paid for out of energy savings in a given period. They repay the cost of the measures via their utility bill."
  • "The first turbine on Native lands was installed in early 2003 on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. It produces enough clean electricity to power over two hundred homes...Rosebud alone aims to produce 50 megawatts by 2010."
  • LaDonna Redmond turned her backyard in Chicago into an urban farm. Neighbors got involved, "one thing led to another, and today the Redmonds' organization, the Institute for Community Resource Development, secures empty lots from the city, oversees a whole network of lots-turned gardens, manages a farmers market, provides technical support and nutritional education, and is planning the opening of a retail store."
  • "A nonprofit in Baltimore called Second Chance launched its architectural salvage and deconstruction services in 2003. Over the next four years, the company grew quickly, filling a 120,000-square foot warehouse space and engaging more than 50 employeese - three deconstruction crews and a retail store crew."
The most inspiring chapter for me was Jones' analysis of the division between the environmental movement and the social justice movement. He asserts that the two sides need to come together, creating a powerful forward-looking group that would be able to solve both environmental and social problems. Environmentalists would benefit from the grassroots growth, and workers in social justice would benefit from the establishment of green jobs. He used the term "environmental justice activists," which is not a term I've heard before but perfectly describes the type of activist-thinking that I'm drawn to.

My only criticism of this book is that it focused so much on how the government (rather than the average joe) can build up the green jobs sector, boost the economy, and solve the climate crisis. Jones' ideas would make a great handbook for President Obama, Governor Bev Perdue, or Mayor Meeker, but they are less useful for the average person, like me, for example. I kept waiting for him to say, "If you want to see this kind of change in your area, you should..." Write letters to my congressman? Lobby my mayor? Establish my own non-profit? Go door to door handing out copies of The Green Collar Economy? Or just keep doing what I've been doing...

Overall, this was a great book, and I strongly recommend that you read it. And then maybe mail a copy to your mayor.

Next up on my reading list...Your Money or Your Life


tangledhair September 13, 2009 at 8:33 PM  

So Michael directed me to your article in the Green Phone Booth, which led me back here. I'm going to read this book, and I agree I've often thought that social justice and environmental justice movements needed to work closely together-- it's one of the things I'm hoping to do with my next research project as I finish my education.

Also, I liked your point about the dearth of ideas/options listed for people who want to do good on various issues, but don't know where to start. It seems to me that people who are knowledgeable in certain areas have spent so much time becoming knowledgeable and figuring out what to do, that it becomes difficult for them to think up simple, easy, direct, immediate ways that people who are not experts in the field can still help.

I was thinking about this recently, and wanted to create a website called What Next? in which people can click on categories of activism to post/learn about things they can do now, today to help. But I don't know how to create that website, and I don't know that I'll be making time to learn how to do it, so I thought I'd put the idea out there, in case you know someone who might do it. Because I think it would be an awesome resource.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper September 15, 2009 at 8:21 PM  

@tangledhair - I think that's a great idea for a website, and if I wasn't already tapped out, I'd steal it! I keep planning on adding a section to this blog for Armchair Activists whenever I hear about worthy causes that need emails or phone calls to Congressmen, but as of yet, I haven't gotten around to it. Stupid time factor!

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