portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states


On Van Jones' inadequate environmental solutions

Bowing to Republican muck-raking, Obama has apparently pressured Jones into resigning from the administration. But the original Obama-Jones environmental program, which Obama has mostly kept on the level of rhetoric, was never enough to begin with. Mass environmental action is needed!
About The Green-Collar Economy of Van Jones:
Green jobs are not enough!

by Joseph Green
(Communist Voice #43, June 2009)

The capitalists are dragging their feet while our world comes closer and closer to burning through global warming. It's going to take the pressure of the working majority of this planet if global warming and other environmental crises are to be solved. But for this to happen, environmentalism must take up, as a crucial part of any environmental plan, the problems that workers will face in surviving in the coming years.

We have continually stressed this point in Communist Voice, writing two years ago that:

"It is impossible to have a planet that is half starved, and half environmentally clean, a planet filled with urban slums on its surface but with pure, pristine forests, oceans, and atmosphere. Only when their efforts to save the environment also ensure their own welfare can the masses be fully mobilized behind environmental planning. And only with the participation of the working masses can the huge tasks required to save the environment be successfully accomplished, and only their participation will provide the oversight over the economy that will ensure that environmental planning is really carried out. " (1)

What Jones promises

At first sight, it might seem that Van Jones, the founder of "Green for All", shares a similar conception. He connects the two issues of global warming and the economic distress of the disadvantaged and the minorities. Last year his book, The Green- Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, appeared, emphasizing the same point. (2)

Jones champions environmental justice, and he denounces eco-elitism in the name of eco-equality. He writes eloquently denouncing the vast inequality in the US, and the injustices to the poor. He insists that environmental measures must always consider the impact on the masses, and he writes in his book that

"Our business and social leaders will launch tens of thousands of new green enterprises and initiatives. Each time they do, they must ask the question: How can we make this effort inclusive, ennobling, and empowering to people who were disrespected in the old economy? How can this effort be used to increase the work, wealth, health, dignity, and power of our society's disadvantaged?" (3)

He says that the present inequalities are a major cause of environmental devastation:

"The only reason that we have the unsustainable accounting that we have right now is because incinerators, dumping grounds, and sacrifice zones were put where poor people live. It would never have been allowed if you had to put all the incinerators and nasty stuff in rich people's neighborhoods; we'd have had a sustainable economy a long time ago. . . . It's the environmental racism that allowed powerful people in society to turn a blind eye for decades to the downside of the industrial system that got us to this point. We don't want to be first and worst with all the toxins and all the negative effects of global warming, and then benefit last and least from all the breakthroughs in solar, wind energy, organic food, all the positives. We want an equal share, an equitable share, of the work wealth and the benefits of the transition to a green economy." (4)

And he insists that global warming can only be solved through a mass movement, not the actions of a relative handful of people:

"Reversing global warming will require a World War II level of mobilization. It is the work of tens of millions, not hundreds of thousands. Such a shift will require massive support at the social, cultural, and political levels. And in an increasingly non-white nation, that means enlisting the passionate involvement of millions of so-called minorities -- as consumers, inventors, entrepreneurs, investors, buzz marketers, voters, and workers.

"Climate-change activists may be tempted to try to sidestep the issues of racial inclusion in the name of expedience -- but eco-apartheid won't work." (5)

And indeed, it's crucial that environmental planning take account of its impact on the masses of people, especially workers and minorities. It will not be successful if the idea is that businesses get the subsidies, and the workers pay the bills. Those who have suffered the most from eco-injustice, must be provided with the most help to overcome it, and they must also become the bastion of the environmental movement.

How he would achieve it

But the question is, how would Jones achieve these important goals? What should the masses of people do to ensure that the environmental movement gets reoriented in this direction?

Jones holds that the key is "green jobs" -- that is, that minorities and the disadvantaged should get jobs in the industries and programs that are set up to deal with the environment, and in programs to help minority communities deal with the changeover to green technology. These are just demands, and they would indeed help not just the economic position of the disadvantaged, but the environmental struggle itself.

Jones, however, goes further. He holds that the new green industries will provide millions upon millions of new jobs, and thus not only solve the hardships of the transition to an environmentally-sustainable economy, but also deal with the problems of social justice just by employing people. He doesn't see the need for there to be direct planning to ensure that the workers, the minorities, and all the disadvantaged, have their needs met. Instead, he argues that jobs in the new industries and environmental programs would automatically provide this. And he sees the fate of the environment and of the masses as tied to what he hopes is a growing, influential, and pro-environmental section of the business community.

Jones presents this idea as a struggle against eco-elitism. In fact, it's the same old promise that economic growth will allegedly solve all problems, and so there's no need for struggle and social programs to deal with them. This idea has become a part of the glittering promises made by establishment environmentalists; and it has become a mantra for many bourgeois politicians.

Jones has himself shown in practice an example of where this idea leads. It means step by step abandoning one's best positions and conciliating the stands of the business community. On one hand, in his book he correctly and unequivocally denounces the "false solutions represented by corn-based ethanol, nuclear power, [and] 'clean' coal". (6) Indeed, he denounces "the main defenders of the planet-cooking status quo" for "deliberately confusing the distinctions between themselves and the champions of genuine answers to climate change" by advocating the slogan of "All of the Above" to justify developing dirty as well as clean energy sources. He describes this as a new maneuver by those who cannot fly openly their "pirate flag of death". (7) And that's quite well said. And yet, on the other hand, he has joined the Obama administration, whose energy program includes "clean" coal, corn-based ethanol, and nuclear power. He has become the Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (8)

That's not an accident. Since he looks towards the supposedly socially- and environmentally-conscious section of the business community for the solution to people's problems, it would be a fiasco if he couldn't show that this constituted an influential and growing section of the ruling class. But where is this supposedly enlightened bourgeoisie? If the Obama administration isn't its representative, then where are these capitalists? So he ends up having to pretend that the Obama administration, despite its "planet-cooking" stands, really is the hope for the future.

Green jobs won't end unemployment

Well, will green jobs solve, at least, the increasingly serious unemployment problem? It's true that the development of green industries will mean that workers are employed in them. But at the same time, these industries will replace dirty industries, and the previous jobs will be lost. If jobs are added in, say, producing solar cells, wind turbines, and geothermal plants, they will be lost in oil, gas and coal. This doesn't mean that the dirty industries should be maintained in order to save the old jobs. It is essential to changeover to production on a better environmental basis. But it means that the needed environmental improvements, such as the changeover from fossil fuels to clean energy sources, won't in themselves solve the employment problem.

Indeed, history has something to say on this point. There has been a good deal of experience in the past with infrastructure renewal. There have previously been major changes in industrial technique that have revolutionized the economy. For example, there was the change from horse-drawn transport to railroads and motor vehicles. There was also the change from many other power sources to electricity. These changes created new industries and, no doubt, created local booms in certain places and certain occupations (while pushing other places and occupations into decay). But they never solved the unemployment problem, or we wouldn't still be worrying about it today. The development of what Marx called the "reserve army of the unemployed" is an inherent tendency in capitalism. The working class has to organize for struggle against exploitation to obtain, as far as possible, proper wages and working conditions, education, jobs or relief for the unemployed, the end of discrimination, etc.

Jones, however, gives figures to illustrate the huge bonanza of green jobs to come. Unfortunately, they don't seem believable. They seem like the ordinary political hyperbole and special pleading that no one really takes seriously any more. Thus he writes:

"In 2006, renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies generated 8. 5 million new jobs, nearly $970 billion in revenue and more than $100 billion in industry profits." (9)

Now, no doubt it's important that at least some work, however insufficient, was done on clean energy in 2006. But would he really have us believe that there would have been 8.5 million more unemployed people in the US in 2006 if it weren't for work on renewable energy and energy-efficient technology? This would mean that the current depression would have hit with even greater force than today already two years ago, if it weren't for green jobs. Really, Mr. Jones?

Market-based solutions won't stop global warming

The problem is that Jones, while opposing eco-elitism, believes in the same fashionable market solutions championed by the establishment environmentalist groups. He wants the disadvantaged to have their share of what he sees as the neo-liberal bonanza, rather than seeing that the neo-liberalism is rotten to the core, and that the market fundamentalist solutions for global warming are leading to disaster.

Indeed, Jones' book is, in large part, a paean of praise to private enterprise and deregulation. He dreams of the disadvantaged becoming entrepreneurs, buzz marketers, investors, and so on. He imagines that a vast extensive of unfettered private enterprise is the solution to global warming, nay, to all our problems.

His book carries a foreword, where Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reflects its overall spirit by writing:

"We need to create open national markets where individuals who devise new ways to produce or conserve power can quickly profit from their innovations. Open, efficient markets will unleash America's entrepreneurial energies to solve our most urgent national problems -- global warming, national security, our staggering debt, and a stagnant economy." (10)

Today, in the midst of a harrowing depression triggered by open, efficient markets, doesn't this passionate embrace of unfettered enterprise sound like something from an age gone by? Indeed, Kennedy embraces deregulation with a passion, going out of his way to endorse the 1996 Telecommunications Act. (11) Would he also care to endorse bank deregulation, too?

Meanwhile Jones gives a history of environmentalism that sets aside the regulatory advances of the past as an obsolete "second" of three waves of environmentalism. The wave of regulation is supposed to have had its day; according to him, we are now "entering the third wave of environmentalism"; it's "just in time" to save us; and "perhaps the third time's the charm".

This third wave is, in his words, an "investment agenda". Although the government should still set some standards, the third wave is not a movement of regulation and planning of industry and the economy, but of "subsidies and supports for the booming clean-energy and energy-conservation markets". When Jones talks of bringing the disadvantaged into the movement, it isn't into overseeing environmental planning, making sure that good regulations are followed, and fighting corporate interests. No, the main thing is to ensure that "working-class people are motivated to take on green-collar jobs and start green businesses." (12)

What about overall environmental planning? He sees this mainly as an issue of setting market signals via a price for carbon. This goes right along with his view that the regulatory "second wave" of environmentalism is over: now we are in the kingdom of entrepreneurship, and the green capitalists will automatically do what's right if the market has the right price signals. As he puts it:

"But let's be clear. The real solution to this whole thing is to put a price on carbon. The biggest economic stimulus I can imagine would be a carbon tax or a cap and trade, cap and dividend, cap and cash back, some sort of cap on carbon, so that suddenly there is a market signal for private capital to start moving aggressively in a clean energy, low carbon direction." (13)

The fiasco of cap and trade

So price signals are supposed to be a marvelous new innovation, the central feature of the "third wave" of environmentalism, that would unleash the market to solve environmental problems better than the bad old regulatory regime ushered in by the legislation of the late 1960s and 1970s. The Clinton administration especially was key in promoting that market systems like cap and trade were the way to solve the global warming problem. But what has been the result?

The Kyoto Protocol is based on cap and trade, and it has been a fiasco. Despite the modest goals set, most of the Kyoto countries have failed to meet them. It's not that nothing has been done in Europe and Japan, but the pace of progress has been too slow. Worse yet, there have even been steps backward. The system of market incentives under Kyoto is a replacement for a truly comprehensive system of environmental planning. Thus each country and each corporation can meet its Kyoto goals by buying this or that alternative fuel, without consideration to how these fuels are produced. As a result, the Kyoto system helped create the biofuel catastrophe, in which there was a huge increase in the use of biofuels without considering what effect their production would have on forests, greenhouse gases, and land use. Thus the Kyoto system has been one of the factors contributing to the vastly expanded production of East Asian palm oil biodiesel and Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, and thus helping destroy the rainforests in Asia and Brazil. (14)

In his book, Jones briefly admits that there are serious problems with the Kyoto Protocol, but he pretends that they are simply a result of imperfections and loopholes, and have nothing to do with its basic market mechanism, which is cap and trade. Since cap and trade and other market-based methods are the foundation stones of the "third wave", he doesn't want to look too closely at their results. (15)

Neo-liberalism and government spending

While Jones backs market solutions, this doesn't mean that he wants to stop government environmental spending. Quite the contrary, he is arguing for much more government funding, but he wants this directed mainly through market mechanisms.

Thus, on one hand, he passionately opposes the idea that "every social problem could be solved at the individual level" and the government should let people "sink or swim"; he says that it won't work to simply have individuals following "solo solutions". And he condemns "the GOP anti-tax operative Grover Norquist" for wanting to "reduce it [the government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Clearly he favors government spending, and he argues that the issue is one of patriotism, writing "We have an obligation to tell the ultra-conservatives who are so rabidly anti-government: 'If you don't love this government, then let it go and hand it over to people who do.' "(16)

On other hand, he repeats the usual catchwords against government programs, denouncing "the liberal welfare state" and "big, clunky, compassionate government a la that of Lyndon Baines Johnson". He doesn't see the source of the problems of the LBJ administration in its capitalist class nature, but in regulation and government programs in general. (17)

So he is critical of both the Democrats and Republicans, but from the standpoint of a reformed, green neo-liberalism: there should be an activist government, a Green New Deal, but it should work through subsidizing "green capital" instead of environment-destroying "gray capital". (18) In essence, while being critical of the priorities of the bourgeois politicians of the 1980s to the present, he accepts the privatization of government functions and reliance on market mechanisms that developed in this period. And when he talks of mass participation, he often is referring mainly to market activity.

Thus, despite his criticism of gray industries and some corporate behavior, he opposes any idea of class struggle. His Green New Deal is one that "spreads the benefits as widely as possible" -- to "both green capital and ordinary people". Moreover, he emphasizes the central role of backing the allegedly good, pro-environmental capitalists. He makes a passionate plea for people to give up their suspicion of the capitalists, and rally behind them. He calls for support for business as the key factor, the priority, in environmental renewal, writing:

"Some in the environmental and social justice worlds may wince at our explicit inclusion -- and even prioritization -- of the needs and interests of green businesses. Many activists of all stripes are suspicious of any corporation; they have become hostile to the entire business community without distinction or exception. They say, 'Big, greedy business led us into this global mess; we can't trust them to lead us out.' They eye with deep suspicion a lot of the green advertising being paid for by companies that have historically been big polluters.

"Much of their concern is understandable. Abuses of power by many big corporations -- both directly against workers and the environment and indirectly through what amounts to legalized bribery in the political system -- continue to have profoundly negative consequences.

"But there is another side to the business community, rarely seen or celebrated. . . . There are groups of financiers, investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders who are committed -- even in advance of any legislation or comprehensive federal support -- to conducting their business in a manner that better respects both people and the environment.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

". . . we are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.

"So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs--and the success and survival of their enterprises. " (19)

But capitalism has its own logic, and the orientation to be a pressure group to promote green capital will, in practice, tear the heart out of his talk of a "new 'social-uplift environmentalism' ", of eco-equity, eco-populism, and of vast, new mass programs. It is the search for ways to rally capital behind his program which led him into the Obama administration, despite his differing from Obama with respect to "clean" coal, corn-based ethanol, and nuclear power. Jones could not find a large section of capital and of pro-capitalist politicians that really "respects both people and the environment" or who even oppose what Jones correctly called the "false solutions" to global warming, so he settled for the Obama administration. Instead of reconsidering his stand on the business community, he has begun to sacrifice one of his positions after another to his overall strategy, to his hopes in the development of a green bourgeoisie.

True, Jones appeals to the masses and discusses their concerns. But he sees, not the mass action of workers and scientists and activists, but market arrangements as the most important factor to push government and industry to deal with the environmental crisis. So his eco-populism ends up being a way of trying to build mass support for what he hopes will be green capital.

Jones' program is an example of the fact that the advocacy of government spending does not, by itself, take one beyond neo-liberalism. He does not call for reversing the privatization of government functions of the last several decades, but seeks to continue it. He simply calls for the government subsidies to be redirected. And he ignores the recent failures of market environmentalism.

The need for environmental planning

Environmental protection requires the direct regulation of production. What a company does, the pollutants it creates, the fuels it uses, affects others besides itself. The environmental cleanups begun in the 70s used regulation to force companies to give up various dirty practices. But the development of what Jones calls the "investment agenda", the growing replacement of regulation with cap and trade systems or even with business voluntarism, resulted in slowing some environmental cleanups to a crawl, such as the twenty-three years needed for a cap and trade program to remove lead from gasoline, and the essential abandonment of some programs, such as the cleanup of a number of bodies of water.

However, it is true that we cannot simply return to the methods of earlier regulation. The fight against global warming requires a much more profound change in economic activity than simply eliminating a number of bad pollutants or cleaning up various sites. The replacement of fossil fuels affects economic life as a whole, requiring not just the replacement of some power generating stations, but major changes in infrastructure, home construction, mass transport, and so on. This affects not just whether some firms have a bit more profit or not, but the welfare of the population as a whole. So environmental planning has to include, not only the direct regulation of the production methods of individual workplaces, but also a certain amount of planning of the overall resources of the economy. And there must also be measures to directly assure people's livelihood as the entire infrastructures is forced to change, a change forced by the climate change that has already begun as well as the measures being taken to mitigate future climate change.

Moreover, there are a number of other environmental problems that are aggravated by global warming, but would exist even if global warming were under control -- such as the overfishing of the oceans, the elimination of wetlands, the growing water crisis, the escalating number of industrial chemicals and so forth. It's notable that these problems too require both direct regulation of commercial enterprises and overall planning of the water resources, of ocean health, and so forth.

And as well, attention must be paid to the experience of "regulatory capture", where industries take over the government agencies that are supposedly regulating them. This has been encouraged by the privatization of government functions under neo-liberalism, and by government-business partnerships. As a result the particular agencies aren't simply subordinate to the capitalists as a class, but are tied to the particular privileged interests they are supposed to curb. To counteract this, it is necessary that the work of the agencies are not only open to oversight, but that the working masses organize themselves to achieve some pressure and influence on them.

But Jones avoids the question of planning as far as possible. This may seem like an odd thing to say, since he puts forward in his book a million different proposals, plans, and suggestions about this or that, some of which deserve support, and does say that the government should set standards. But he avoids the question of the overall planning of economic resources, doesn't consider how to fight regulatory capture, and sees the government mainly as a gigantic source of funds for the "investment agenda". He closes his eyes to the experience that marketplace measures have failed as a replacement for regulation. And he doesn't consider what it would take to help the masses become a force that would be deeply involved -- not in hoping to set up their own private business, not simply in pressuring the government to provide subsidies to green capital, not simply in accepting whatever private job or government program exists -- but in forcing, as far as possible, government regulation to be done in public, forcing the marketplace to obey regulation, and achieving some supervision of the needed overall environmental planning and regulation of the economy.

The search for green capitalists

Instead Jones believes that green capital will regulate itself. He bets the house, indeed the planet, on capitalists becoming wise, benevolent leaders who will do right by the earth and by their employees. He writes that

"The numbers are small right now, but the emergence of true 'triple-bottom-line' businesses (which balance 'profit, planet, and people' in their operation) is a potentially significant development. And it is just beginning. 'Green' MBA programs . . . are cranking out young business leaders with a different view about how to make money while making a difference." (20)

Green business is to be the leader, set free by the deregulation that stopped the second wave of environmentalism in its tracks, enlightened by "social-uplift environmentalism", and -- let's speak plainly -- financed by the government. He envisions "a political movement to create a 'Green New Deal' in the United States and other industrialized nations", which "forges a 'Green Growth Alliance' to unite the best of business, labor, social justice advocates, youth, people of faith, and environmentalists (while paying special attention to the challenges of working across old divisions of race and class)". The alliance's role seems mainly to be to ensure that the government serves as an "effective midwife" to the development of green capital. When you look at the fine print, he says that business is the leader, so it seems that labor, social justice advocates, youth, people of faith, and environmentalists are mainly to be the foot soldiers. Green capital needs subsidies; Jones complains about the subsidies that go to grey capital; and there have to be voters to ensure that the government provides green capital with these subsidies. (21)

But what is green capital? The term is misleading; it is the greenwashing of an unpleasant reality, that the capitalism has been devastating the environment. Moreover, just because a company starts to manufacture, say, electric cars, doesn't mean that it has gotten a social conscience. It doesn't even guarantee that it follows environmental standards in how it produces these cars, and it certainly doesn't guarantee a humane attitude to its workers. Indeed, if the environment really is to be saved, the entire economy has to be transformed on a green basis--all corporations will have to be following green regulations: does that mean all the capitalists will have been transformed into public-spirited humanitarians, who have replaced concern for the bottom line with attention to the "triple-bottom-line"? As the government subsidizes various green infrastructure projects, and as one product after another has to be built according to environmental regulations, the ordinary, profit-hungry corporations we are so familiar with are all going to be producing this or that green product. This no more makes them into environmentalists then selling toys makes the CEOs of toy stores into crusaders for children's welfare.

But Jones holds that the old class divisions are obsolete in the world of today. How should they be overcome? He writes that "If the unions and green business leaders can identify win-win compromises on wages and other issues, they can work together to pass legislation that will help both sides." (22) Well, that was easy -- in words, anyway. In the big print, the declaration of struggle against eco-elitism and for eco-equity and in favor of the minorities, and the vehement condemnation of the growing economic inequality in the US. In the fine print, it's just a matter of achieving "win-win compromises" with the rich elite.

Let's look a little closer at green capital. The idea of market-solutions to the environment, as in cap and trade, was that business would reduce carbon emissions simply out of concern to increase their profits, if only a carbon market was set up. Jones himself describes carbon pricing as the key. Yet Jones also tells us that the capitalists will be green because they are concerned for a "triple-bottom-line", and not just profit. Really?

Consider the companies producing biofuels. Biofuels might be able to play a small role in replacing biofuels, but the rapid expansion of the production of biofuels has been a disaster, with the expansion of corn-based ethanol having a devastating effect on food prices, and, as mentioned earlier, the production of sugar-based ethanol and palm oil biodiesel helping to eat away at the Amazon and Asian rainforests. So are the biofuel companies "green" companies or not? They present themselves as socially-responsible. But as companies their responsibility is to make a profit, and to produce and sell as much of their product as they can. It's not their job to look into the overall effect of biofuels, or to consider how much is enough. The business world is ruled by the marketplace's famous "invisible hand", and the invisible hand of profit and loss cares nothing for the environment.

It requires overall planning of key environmental resources, to which the production plans of companies must be subordinated, to stop and reverse escalating environmental damage. If there is no such planning; if matters are left mainly to the companies; if the government's role is mainly to subsidize them; and if the role of the masses is mainly to cheer for green capital and seek a cut in the contracts and jobs, then the environment will continue to decay. Jones might not want that; he might well be horrified when he sees the outcome of market solutions; but the business world has its own inherent logic.

For a working-class environmental movement

It turns out that the class struggle doesn't just apply to the issue of wages and benefits, or to social programs, or to the fight against racism. We need to bring the class struggle into the fight to defend the environment.

To deal with the crisis of global warming requires the subordination of business, as far as environmental regulations, to the interests of society. This requires government regulation. Of course, the capitalists don't just run businesses, but they also run governments in their own class interest. Hence there has to be a struggle both to ensure that the government does enact regulation in the environmental interest, and that companies adhere to them. Therefore we need, not just government regulation, but the involvement of the mass of the population in regulating the economy.

This requires that the working class organize itself. If the workers, the minorities and the disadvantaged can't defend themselves, they won't be able to defend the environment either. So the interests of environmental reform depend on the workers becoming a powerful class force. This is the only way to push the capitalists to come up with some environmental protection. The election of Obama as president hasn't changed this. Despite all the green talk from the Obama administration, it advocates ineffective market measures that will lead to fiasco, as well as backing environmental disasters such as "clean coal". Moreover, it's possible that the Obama administration, if it can't get its environmental plan passed, or when it does get its cap and trade plan enacted but finds that it doesn't work, will turn to desperate geo-engineering plans -- such as throwing huge amounts of pollution into the atmosphere in order to block sunlight. John Holdren, Obama's science advisor, has talked about the possibility that the Obama administration will turn to such things. (23) So wedded is the American bourgeoisie to neo-liberalism that it would contemplate the most dangerous expedients rather than accept regulation and environmental planning.

Indeed, ultimately the type planning required to preserve the environment is not compatible with a capitalist society, where each business is out for itself, and must be out for itself, on pain of failure. Consistent and pro-people planning would require socialism, the ownership and control of the economy by the entire working population. But this doesn't mean that nothing can be accomplished now. Instead, it means that, while capitalism still exists, there will always be a constant struggle between marketplace pressures and environmental needs. So the role of working class struggle against the various special interests of capitalist polluters is essential. The fight for environmental planning and the direct regulation of production is, along with the fight for jobs and wages and social programs, something which the working class needs to engage in, and can use to help organize itself.

Jones is correct to raise the need to connect the environmental struggle to the needs of the masses. Where he goes astray is believing that this is possible under neo-liberalism and with market measures taking the place of regulation. There will have to be a turn towards regulation and planning in order for environmental goals to be achieved. To put it another way, we will have green jobs not because CEO's become green-minded, but only as far as workers stand up to compel the capitalists and their governments to give in, to this or that extent, to mass needs and proper planning. The class struggle is as important on the environmental front as on any other.


(1)"The coming of the environmental crisis, the failure of the free market, and the fear of a carbon dictatorship", Communist Voice, January 2007, www.communistvoice.org/39cKyoto.html.

(2)Van Jones with Ariane Conrade, The Green-Collar Economy, 2008.

(3)Ibid., p. 71.

(4) Jesse Flinfrock, "Q&A: Van Jones" in Mother Jones, Wed. , October 29, 2008, www.motherjones.com/print/13606.

(5) The Green-Collar Economy, p. 58.
(6) Ibid., p. 6.

(7) Ibid., pp. 192-193.

(8) See "McCain and Obama vs. the environment" for a description of Obama's energy program, www.communistvoice.org/DWV-080921.html.

(9) The Green-Collar Economy, p. 5. Van Jones refers to a report by the American Solar Energy Society. Currently it can be found by going to www.ases.org and clicking on "ASES Green Jobs Report". A summary is at www.ases.org/images/stories/ASES/pdfs/CO_Jobs_Rpt_Jan2009_summary.pdf, and the full version at www.ases.org/images/stories/ASES/pdfs/CO_Jobs_Final_Report_December2008.pdf. For the sake of accuracy, note that, while Jones says, as the report does, that 8.5 million green jobs were created in 2006, when you read the report carefully, it claims that was this was the total created up to 2006.

But for that matter, the figures are pretty arbitrary anyway. The term "new jobs" is especially slippery. If one job is wiped out and another job created, does this count as zero net new jobs, or "one new green job"? Moreover, the report admits that the majority of the jobs are "indirect environmental jobs", which includes even jobs in "doughnut shops" where environmental workers stop for refreshment.

The report says it is concerned with jobs in "renewable energy and energy efficiency". But by its figures, the largest source of jobs in renewable energy has been corn-based ethanol, which Jones correctly regards as a "false solution". But for that matter, of the claimed 8.5 million jobs, 8 million are actually in "energy efficiency", which the report admits is the most difficult-to-define category. Indeed, it seems that most of the jobs consist of previous jobs becoming "green jobs" when the companies or institutions involve take some steps that ASES can see as related to increased efforts for energy efficiency. The connections of these jobs to environmental concerns may be slight. The report itself says that "many of the persons employed in these jobs may not even realize that they owe their livelihood" to RE&EE (renewable energy and energy efficiency).

(10) The Green-Collar Economy, p. xiii.

(11) Ibid. , p. xi.

(12) Ibid. , pp. 35,44-57.

(13) "Van Jones on 'The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems' ", an interview by Amy Goodman for her radio program "Democracy Now!", < www.democracynow.org/2008/10/28/van_jones_on_the_green_collar >.

(14) See the section entitled "The Kyoto Protocol and the fiasco of carbon trading" in The coming of the environment crisis, the failure of the free market, and the fear of a carbon dictatorship (www.communistvoice.org/39cKyoto.html). Also, see the "The looming biofuel disaster", "Sugar cane ethanol and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest", and "The palm oil fiasco" in Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize and the fiascoes of corporate environmentalism, which is an article from the Feb. 2008 issue of "Communist Voice" (www.communistvoice.org/41cAlGore.html).

(15) The Green-Collar Economy, pp. 162-3. It's also notable that the Foreword, by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., promotes Brazil as an example of solving both environmental and economic problems at one time, saying that Brazil has "decarboned its energy over the past decade" and is "experiencing the most sustained economic boom in its history". (p. ix) Meanwhile the clock is ticking on the destruction of the Brazilian Amazon, which will be one of the major environmental catastrophes of the 21st century, and which both ethanol and overall capitalist development in Brazil are contributing to.
(16) Ibid. , pp. 66-68, 112.

(17) Ibid, pp. 66, 81.

(18) Ibid, p. 84.

(19) The Green-Collar Economy, pp. 84-86.

(20) The Green-Collar Economy, p. 85.

(21) The Green-Collar Economy, Ch. 4, "The Green New Deal".

(22) Ibid, p. 87.

(23) Seth Borenstein, "AP Newsbreak: Obama looks at climate engineering", April 8, 2009.