Green Giant

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced Monday that Van Jones has been appointed its Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Jones is the best-selling author of The Green Collar Economy and the founder of "Green For All," a national organization that promotes environmentally friendly jobs to help lift people out of poverty. According to CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, Jones will "help to shape the administration's energy and climate initiatives, with special emphasis on improvements and economic opportunities in vulnerable communities"--a fitting task, since energy, climate and economic opportunity were themes for Jones long before his recent appointment.

"I love Barack Obama," Jones told The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert when she interviewed him for a January profile, and it's hard not to see some striking parallels between the president and his administration's new Green Jobs advisor. Not only is Jones an exceptional orator with an extensive background in community organizing, but his work has been propelled by a similar marriage of pragmatism and optimism. When I met Jones at a lecture he delivered in Connecticut in the spring of 2006--a political moment when environmental justice advocates were largely absent from the nation's corridors of power--Jones argued that people of diverse backgrounds and political persuasions could be rallied around the cause of green collar jobs so long as its advocates shed a "politics of opposition" for a "politics of proposition." "It is miserable," he said, "if you are defined by the thing you are fighting against because you haven't come up with things you are fighting for."

Under the Obama administration, the things Jones has been fighting for have become priorities at the highest levels of government. The first meeting of Vice-President Joe Biden's Middle Class Task Force focused on how the creation of "green jobs" can help fuel the nation's economic recovery and bolster the middle class. The President's stimulus package includes $5 billion for low income weatherization projects, $11 billion for smart grid investments and $500 million to help train workers for "green jobs."

Critics point out that generating green jobs is not always efficient and that determining which jobs should fall into this category can be fraught with complications. Some skeptics also suggest that projects such as highway expansion could counteract the benefits of the green initiatives in the stimulus.

But it's easy to see why the administration would tap Jones to offer environmental advice at a time of exceptional economic anxiety. His work is notable for its holistic approach to the cause of environmental sustainability, raising awareness that the communities most hurt by unsustainable practices are often the poorest. Jones has long argued that jobs in mass-transit construction, weatherization and solar panel installation should go to those facing chronic unemployment. "The green economy should not be just about reclaiming thrown-away stuff," he writes in The Green Collar Economy. "It should be about reclaiming thrown-away communities."

Jones, who does not need Senate confirmation, will start his new job on Monday.