Where Are the Green Jobs? An Interview With Van Jones

Where Are the Green Jobs? An Interview With Van Jones

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With less than a month to go before the elections, opponents of Prop. 23 have ramped up their campaign, knocking on doors and staffing phone banks to sway voters. They've even recruited Obama's former green jobs czar Van Jones to counter the "yes" campaign's claims that AB 32 is a jobs killer. New America Media editor Ngoc Nguyen asks Jones where all the green jobs are. Van Jones is co-founder of Green for All and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

The supporters of Prop. 23 say AB 32 is a jobs killer – is that true? Would Prop. 23 be better for the state’s economy?

In California, there’s always one ballot measure that does the opposite of what it says and that is this one. AB 32 is a jobs creator. Half a million people are working in California right now in clean tech and clean energy fields, because of the leadership that California’s legislature has shown. That’s the truth. And all this is is Texas oil money trying to knock out Silicon Valley as a competitor for the energy future in America. That’s all it is. If this were really about jobs in California…Californians would be putting money [into the proposition]. All the money here is coming from Texas.

Prop. 23 has the support of small business interest groups, including the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. The group says that AB 32 won’t really help small businesses, it will just enrich Silicon Valley venture capitalists.

Silicon Valley types don’t install solar panels. That’s done by small contractors. Retrofitting and upgrading homes so they don’t waste energy, that’s done by small contractors. One thing you know for sure is that small businesses don‘t run oil platforms and… California small businesses won’t be running any oil platforms in Texas, so it doesn’t make sense to jump into bed with them. The next round of job creation and the next set of entrepreneurial opportunities are going to be coming from the industries of tomorrow. California right now has a tremendous head start and it would be foolish to throw that head start away.

Everyone wants to know where are the green jobs – they are hopeful that there will be green jobs, but they can’t access them. It’s a real frustration. What would you tell them?

One of the challenges we have is that green jobs are very visible in the political conversation…as a political concept, but they are not very visible as an economic fact. For instance, there are 80,000 coal miners in America in the old energy economy. There are already 80,000 people who are working in the wind industry in America and the solar industry supports an additional 46,000 jobs, so there are already more people with green jobs… in wind and solar than we have coal miners. Most people don’t know that.

You don’t have people on television doing those jobs, and they are newer jobs. No one doubts (coal mining jobs) , because you’ve seen those for hundreds of years. So part of it is people are less aware of the jobs that are being created. And the other part is we do need more of these jobs. Though we are in a tough economy without the federal government having passed the right bills, they are growing. And we won’t get them if as soon as we put the right laws in place, before the investments can actually get locked in, we start changing the laws again.

What happens if Prop. 23 fails, but the governor suspends it for one year as Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman has suggested?

Any delay in implementation is a delay in clean energy job creation, a roadblock for clean tech investors and a dream come true for China.

What kills jobs more than anything is an uncertain legal environment where the laws are changed around every year, so that businesses don’t know where they should invest or disinvest or grow or cut back. That’s why this whole Prop. 23 is so dangerous. You’ve got people who are right now investing in California. And just as the train is beginning to move down the tracks, you’ve got people who want to knock it into the ditch and say they are doing that to create jobs. But, how would you ever create jobs by eliminating the policies that are attracting capital and replacing the bill with nothing?

A recent Field Poll found that ethnic voters, who could play a decisive role in passing the measure, were still on the fence on Prop. 23 – what would you say to these voting groups?

This is again one of those trickster ballot measures that says all the right things and does all the wrong things. It does require voters to do a double take to figure out this thing would be a catastrophe for California’s job future. I’m not surprised people are divided or confused. It’s designed to be confusing. They pretend that this doesn’t eliminate the climate legislation, and just postpones it, but it postpones it essentially forever, because the conditions under which it would ever come back into force, almost never occur in California’s economy. It pretends that it’s about protecting jobs, when it’s really about killing the only jobs creation machine in California.

What do Texas oil companies have to gain from Prop. 23?

If Californians invent cleaner technology that doesn’t rely on oil, Texas oil companies lose a ton of money. That’s why they are willing to spend a ton of money on a tricky ballot measure. In California politics, follow the money. You can polish up any language and get it on the ballot measure but look at the fine print and look where the money is coming from and that’s all you need to know.

Van Jones is co-founder of Green for All and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.