Van Jones spoke at Temple about the future green collar economy.
Despite the well-known controversy portrayed by the media during his time in the White House in 2009, Van Jones does not come off as an anti-American, conspiracy-theorizing communist kind of guy.
The New York Times best-selling author, and former green jobs adviser to the Obama administration, came to Main Campus on Tuesday for a meet-and-greet reception at the Diamond Club, followed by a speech at the Performing Arts Center. He spoke about his book, “The Green Collar Economy,” and offered positive incite on how to promote a more stable, sustainable job market in the United States.
“Your generation has a tremendous opportunity and obligation to look the facts square in the face,” Jones said during his speech. “It’s time to put some green rungs back on that ladder of opportunity.”
Jones’ appearance was the kickoff event for Campus Sustainability Week organized by the Office of Sustainability. The event was free and open to the public.
Jones said he is hopeful for the creation of a green business standard that would level the playing field for companies who go green, so they don’t lose out in the market place because they can’t compete with other companies’ dirty business practices.
Although it was some malicious muckraking that made Jones a household name, the award-winning human rights advocate has founded groups such as the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change and Green for All – a national organization aimed at bringing green jobs to disadvantaged communities.
Jones said his biggest passion is speaking with young people to promote awareness of how the younger generation can bring the U.S. out of a recession through the creation of green jobs, and how, at the same time, this would be good for the environment.
“No matter what your major is, taking classes about the environment and sustainability and these new clean and green technologies is a very smart investment,” Jones said.
“You can almost be guaranteed that 10 or 15 years from now, in almost every profession and field, there will be an expectation that people are much smarter about their environmental impact on the world,” he added. “Environmental sustainability will become more and more deeply incorporated into the normal working of the economy.”
The main concentration of Jones’ work is to show people how poverty and global warming can be beat at the same time, he said.
“We don’t have to have America in decline, decline, decline,” Jones said. “We just have to break particular logic.”
Jones used comical impersonations and sarcastic antics to tell his version of why our government has not yet become a competitive force in the global green economy.
Jones said he believes Americans have a right to be energy producers, who can create solar panels and wind farms, and not just “energy surfs” forced to work underground in dangerous mines to power the nation.
He described how the U.S. could become the “Saudi Arabia” of solar power if businesses did not outsource as much.
“America’s future is not down those holes,” he said. “We want to look up.”
Jones emphasized how a fossil fuel-reliant country has led us to catastrophes, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He explained that relying on renewable, clean energy sources, in addition to being more sustainable for the environment, would also be a lot safer.
“You’ve never heard of a sun spill, have you?” he joked.
Jones also focused much of his speech and efforts on proving to the masses that global warming is indeed happening, despite constant misconstruing of evidence by certain politicians and media outlets.
He cited the fact that 95 percent of scientists believe cigarettes cause cancer, HIV causes AIDS and humans cause global warming.
“If you wouldn’t tell your cousin it’s safe to smoke 12 packs a day, and you wouldn’t tell your friend to have unprotected contact with whomever, then you probably shouldn’t go around saying we haven’t caused global warming,” Jones said.
Jones said the younger generation will have to be a lot wiser living in, as he called it, “a Google, YouTube, ‘gotcha’ culture,” that makes it intimidating for someone to want to assume leadership positions. Because it is still possible to distract people from the realities of climate change, Jones warned that certain biased groups will purposely throw others under the bus to divert attention from progressive action.
Jones brought this up in lieu of his eventual resignation following the tremendous scrutiny he faced from figures, such as Glenn Beck, who broadcasted that Jones had at one time considered himself, “a full-blown Marxist.”
“I don’t regret saying that I was a Marxist when I was in my twenties because it’s the truth,” Jones said. “The only way I can regret saying it is if I believed that I should be lying about my evolution. I’m never going to lie about that, so I don’t regret it. I was telling the truth about my own journey.”
During the time Jones served in the White House, the Obama administration was in the midst of passing important legislation such as health care reform. Jones said this is why he decided it was better for him to quit, rather than force the president to spend his time defending his reputation.
“You have to remember I’m not a politician. It wasn’t my life-long ambition to work in the White House,” Jones said. “They asked me to come. I didn’t ask to go, but I had an expertise, and I thought I was there to serve the president. When I thought I was a distraction, I quit.”
Although Jones no longer serves in the White House, he said he still considers his time there to have been his greatest privilege in life. He continues to work to promote a green economy by giving motivational speeches and dedicating efforts to his various organizations.
The Office of Sustainability will be continuing its efforts by sponsoring the Fox School of Business’ “Green by Design” efforts for Campus Sustainability Week. It also plans to attend the Phillies versus Mets game with 100 students and faculty members to pick up recyclables after the event and promote sustainability to the sold out Philadelphia crowd.
They will continue with their pledge to promote a sustainable lifestyle.
“We have a green report card, and every year we’ve upped our grade,” said Kathleen Grady of the Office of Sustainability. “We’re hoping it goes up again next year.”
Amelia Garrett, the president of Students for Environmental Action, and other SEA members worked directly with the Office of Sustainability in promoting and finding the appropriate funding for the Jones event.
“I think Van Jones is really cool because he does have a unique perspective, and I think it’s one that Temple definitely can benefit from,” Garrett said. “I just hope that students look at these things from a critical perspective, that they think a little more about the environmental problems, and they look at different possible solutions.”
Brittany Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.