Van Jones was appointed by President Obama early in his presidency. After a short six months as Special Advisor for Green Jobs in the Obama Administration, amid controversy over several issues, Jones resigned. My wife and I had the privilege of hearing Jones speak Monday night at the University of Oregon in the EMU Ballroom.
Jones is an engaging speaker, expressive and animated. But beyond that, the guy is simply smart. Actually, he’s wise. I make a distinction between smart and wise. Smart is the head knowledge that fills up your brain; wise is applying that head knowledge in practical, useful, helpful ways. And when it comes to all aspects of the triple bottom line (environment, economy and equity), Jones is definitely wise.
His lecture was titled “Beyond Green Jobs: the Next American Economy” and was presented as part of the University’s Humanities Center Tzedek lectures. As I have reflected on his talk, I’ve been trying to think what tidbit of something he said should be the focus of this post. That’s difficult. He touched on many topics across the spectrum of politics, the environment, social justice and economics. And I think the challenge I’m having distilling his talk down to one (or a few) talking points is the same challenge I had with my seminar at the Good Earth Home Show titled “Lifestyle of the Simple and Sustainable.” And that is: everything is connected. And because everything is connected, a linear thought process simply falls short.
So Jones’ talk, while it touched on many topics (Hurricane Katrina, politics, social justice, economics, the BP oil spill and his dad putting himself and several relatives including Jones through college), it was all connected. Because life and culture are all connected.
But I guess if I had to single out just one thought from Jones’ talk, it would be the concept that we have built our energy economy on death. Oil is dead dinosaurs. Coal is dead plant material. So we drill and dig (or blow up mountaintops) dead stuff to burn it for fuel and create even more death through pollution, illnesses, greenhouse gases, etc. Instead, we should be looking to the sun and renewable energy sources and the life they give (plant life, animal life, human life) and capture that through solar energy and wind power for starters. And I suppose that is what was so profound to me from Jones’ talk Monday. It’s profound because it’s so simple. Life? Or death?
I wonder what would happen in our neighborhoods, our regions, our world if we looked at everything through the lens of life rather than the lens of death? If we looked at every action, every process, every political decision, every social decision, every environmental decision through that filter, as cliché as this might sound, the world would truly be a much better place. It would benefit our environment, it would benefit our social equity and it would benefit our economy. Let’s start.