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Week of 5.29.09

Book Excerpt: "The Green Collar Economy"

Cover of 'The Green Collar Economy' by Van Jones From "The Green Collar Economy" by Van Jones. Copyright © 2008 by Van Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. For more information about "The Green Collar Economy," please click here.

Chapter 7—Buoyancy and Hope

I pray for hope, encouragement, and inspiration to those who are working to move our society along the path toward a green future. I believe we can get there. But I do not want to create any false sense of comfort or security about the outcome. The fact that our survival is a vibrant possibility does not mean that it is inevitable. Far from it.

Even the most hopeful ideas discussed here are based on a fundamentally pessimistic premise: that the children of all species, including our own, are gravely imperiled—unless we completely overhaul our outmoded political and economic systems. Such a transformation would constitute one of the single biggest feats in the history of world politics. As Niccolò Machiavelli put it: "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."1 Even if we had skilled leaders in both major parties who were 100 percent committed to the undertaking, it still would be tough for them to produce change of the necessary scope and scale. And so, in this venture, failure is an option. We could lose this crusade, and in losing—lose everything.

No matter what happens, we will need to brace ourselves for a rough ride. Even if our efforts at ecological salvation are blessed with unprecedented success, things will get worse before they get better—probably much worse. In other words, someday we will probably look back on these tough and turbulent times and see them as the "good old days." We may someday sorely miss the kind of relative ecological, economic, and social stability that we are presently enjoying.

But even if our movement fails to avert disaster, the work of building a national Green Growth Alliance to birth a Green New Deal won't be in vain. The effort to reinvent the system will build up important knowledge and establish invaluable relationships.

Even in the most dire, "hard-landing" scenario, we can redeploy that wisdom and those networks to make the best of even the worst situations.

And as for me, I do not believe or accept that the fight for the future has already been lost. We should not let the possibility of eco-apocalypse paralyze us; we should let it motivate and propel us. Whatever our fate, we know one thing: hiding out or holding back won't save us.

Many of the best people in the country and the world have not been heard from yet. Many of the best ideas have not yet surfaced or been taken to scale. As the green wave encompasses more people, it will produce more innovation, inventiveness, and passion than we can possible appreciate or imagine. Just as there are unimaginable bad things on the horizon, there are also unimaginable good things. And I am betting on them.

And let's not forget that most people walking around in a mall or on a college campus are carrying on them better technology than the entire U.S. government had when it put a man on the moon. Each one of us is a walking technological superpower. We can access information and communicate instantly with people around the world. Given the capacities available to us, our wildest dreams and biggest hopes are probably too small.

In the coming crises, the only viable response will be collective action, supported by effective government. That approach will demand a different concept of leadership, even among people who are already focused on saving the world.

My friend Paul Hawken, an eco-entrepreneur, poet, and visionary, writes in his book Blessed Unrest: "Healing the wounds of the earth and its people does not require saintliness or a political party, only gumption and persistence. It is not a liberal or conservative activity; it is a sacred act." We need leaders with a comprehensive vision and positive agenda, who pursue the most cutting-edge approaches to education reform, health care, violence prevention, job creation, and eco-friendly economics.

Now is not the time to shrink from the challenge of saving our only home in the universe. Now is not the time to pull into ourselves, retreating into either a survivalist or an escapist mode. To the contrary, this is the time for titans, not turtles. Now is the time to open our arms, expand our horizons, and dream big. Big problems require big solutions. World-historic problems require world-class leadership. To prevail, we will need tens of thousands of heroes at every level of human society.

No one great leader can fix this nest of problems. Al Gore has been the planetary Paul Revere on this issue; he could have sat on his hands after 2000, growing increasingly bitter. Instead, he has used his fame to awaken the world to the threat of a climate catastrophe. If we survive, the entire human family will owe a great deal to him. But no one person can do it alone. We need thousands of Al Gores, thousands of Susan B. Anthonys, Rosa Parkses, Martin Luther Kings, César Chávezes, Franklin Roosevelts, and Eleanor Roosevelts. As always, those stalwart heroes will emerge from the ranks of ordinary people just like me and you. So each and every one of us should stop playing small and license ourselves to become one of the giants of the new century. We will need champions by the truckload.

If we stand for change, we can spark a popular movement with power, influence, magic, and genius. We won't just have the movement we have always wanted. We will have the country we have always wanted—and the world for which our hearts have longed.

Now is the time for us to raise our sights. Now is the time for America to dream again. Even in the midst of new dangers, now is the time for us to unshackle our imaginations. Let us envision meeting our economic and ecological challenges with our heads held high—not buried in our hands.

We can put "solution centers" in every town and neighborhood to train young workers in new technologies and ancient wisdom. We can envision our rural and urban youth creating zero-pollution products to sell. We can imagine formerly incarcerated people moving from jail cells to solar cells—helping to harvest the sun, heal the land, and repair their own souls. We can help local communities join hands—across lines of class and color—to honor the Earth, create new jobs, and reduce community violence.

We can create clear skies over our major port cities. Where idling ships once fouled the air, we can build solar-powered energy stations that let docking sea vessels power up cleanly. And we can send trucks using hybrid engines or cleaner biodiesel blends to take fair-trade goods off those ships without polluting the neighborhood.

We can build eco-industrial parks on land once blighted by prisons. We can pass laws that help transform our dying blue-collar towns, struggling rural regions, and poor neighborhoods into dignified, green-collar meccas. We can help our Rust Belt cities blossom as Silicon Valleys of green capital.

And we need not limit the innovation and industry of America to communities within our own borders. We can cooperate globally to give Africa, Latin America, and other developing regions the means to grow economically, while preserving their natural environments. U.S. entrepreneurs can help vast areas of China and India power up with clean energy. And we can learn from the world.

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