November 15, 2010

Coalition to protect our environment

By Van Jones
Californians rejected Proposition 23, a November ballot initiative — funded by Texas oil companies — that would have effectively repealed the state's landmark clean energy and environmental protection laws.

What few news outlets are covering, is the striking diversity of voices that are demanding clean energy, and rejecting the false notion that protecting the planet and our public health will hurt the economy.

This coalition includes social justice organizations of all creeds and colors, whose missions are to empower the voices of the working class and communities of color — including immigrants. These groups understand that less smog means less asthma, fewer trips to the emergency room, and healthier neighborhoods for their children.

The coalition also includes a group of investors who represent more than $421 billion in assets, much of it in the clean tech sector. They make the case that clean energy technology is the next wave of the industrial revolution, and California is poised to become a leader in innovation, job creation, and commercialization of these technologies. However, they also warn that reversing course on policy — precisely what Prop 23 aims to achieve — will cause investment to flow elsewhere (mainly to places like China and parts of Europe), and doom California and the rest of the nation to be left behind during the biggest revolution of the new global economy.
These groups represent just the tip of iceberg in a movement that includes environmentalists, politicians from both parties, students, public health organizations, big and small businesses, labor groups, consumer groups, senior citizens, and public safety organizations.
A vision for the future of green growth
What's happening in California is truly amazing. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voices, from literally every political, ethnic, faith, and socio-economic spectrum, all pulling for the same cause. This beautiful coalition gives us a glimpse of the green path forward toward clean energy, a prosperous sustainable economy, and a healthier planet.
In 2008, I wrote a book called The Green Collar Economy, and in it I outlined a vision for a "Green Growth Alliance." This coalition, I argued, should include labor, social justice activists, environmentalists, students, and faith organizations — along with green business interests. Such an alliance could, in my opinion, "change the face of politics in this country."
A lot has happened since early 2008 — and the face of politics has begun to change, slowly.
The green movement has suffered setbacks, most notably the failure of comprehensive climate and clean energy legislation in Congress. The deep pockets of the dirty energy lobby, which spent more than $500 million to buy influence among (mostly Republican) lawmakers, along with the rise of Tea Partiers, climate deniers, and conservative TV and radio pundits, turned the protection and preservation of the planet and public health into a political malaise.
But what we see happening in California gives the green movement a reason for continued optimism. This time we are on the defensive, protecting our climate laws already on the books. The fight has unmasked the opponents of clean energy, as well as vetted their arguments — the same tired talking points they have been using for the last four decades.
But more importantly than unmasking our enemies, this fight has revealed our friends and allies. It turns out that given the opportunity, huge swaths of Californians, from all walks of life, can find common value in supporting cleaner air and a commitment to growing the clean technology sector.
The fight is far from over, and with Election Day approaching in less than a week, the stakes are higher than ever. But victory in California can give us a model for the coalition that is needed to achieve a green growth victory in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the nation.
- Van Jones is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and is a co-founder the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Color of Change, and Green For All.
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