Former Obama administration official visits UMass

By Patrick Sadlon

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Van Jones, the former green jobs adviser for the Obama administration spoke Wednesday night on moving America towards a green economy.

“Teamwork is dreamwork” Jones said to open the talk in the Mahar Auditorium at the University of Massachusetts.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s website, a green economy is “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.”

Jones said that the country has the opportunity “to do something special” after the recent economic downturn.

“We are in a serious, serious situation and I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Jones said.

Jones said the dominant paradigm “is made up of three economic fallacies, not the Republican or Democratic fallacies, three economic, bipartisan fallacies.”

The first fallacy, Jones said, was that an economy can be based on production and not consumption.

The second was that an economy can be based on credit; instead of “thrift and smart saving like our grandparents,” he said.

Jones said the third fallacy was that an economy can work forever on ecological destruction, not ecological restoration.

Jones then illustrated the prevalence of death in modern society.

“Think about it,” he said. “The faster you kill living things, turn them into dead product and then into trash, that’s called economic growth. We power this civilization based on death. What is oil? What is coal? Why do you think we call them fossil fuels?”

Many heads nodded in the crowd while Jones said the country’s future was up in the sky and the sun, not “looking down in those holes.”

A portion of the lecture also explored the global significance of green energy. Jones said that more than “50 percent of Germany’s electric grid was powered by alternative energy” and that the U.S. needed to be on the forefront of future energy.

“I’m talking about wind turbines, not wind mills,” he said. “I’m talking about a Boeing jet engine in the sky; the equivalent in steel of 20 cars. That’s where you put the auto workers.”

Voicing concerns about the political gridlock in the country, Jones defended Obama by emphasizing the president’s mission to find a comprehensive solution for the country regarding green energy, comparing the president’s job to a man on a tightrope.

He also openly criticized the Republican Party for failing to work with Democrats, citing multiple examples including their lack of support for cap-and-trade that originally came from the Republican base.

“I’m partisan and proud of it,” he said.

Jones gave his opinion of the Tea Party, saying that he was glad that they were part of the political discussion despite disagreeing with them.

“When people complain to me about the Tea Party, I tell them I’m not mad the Tea Party got so loud. I’m mad that the rest of us got so quiet,” he said.

The rest of his talk was aimed directly at the various students in the crowd and how the struggle for change is more than just blogging.

“Democracy is not an app,” Jones said. “Nobody said change was going to be easy but we have to take responsibility. You have to have a movement willing to do the moving. For some reason, we’re stuck on stupid.”

Talking about the power of activism, Jones mentioned the protests leading up to the War in Iraq.

“In the first six weeks leading up to the Iraq War, there were more people protesting than in all six years of the Vietnam War,” he said. “We need that kind of movement to happen.”

Using a quote from Steve Biko, a prominent activist in South Africa, Jones said that “the greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

After the lecture, various students and local residents talked to Jones in a question and answer session.

Jones helped found three non-profit organizations, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Green for All, and Color for Change. He’s published two books titled “The Green Collar Economy” and “Rebuild the Dream” and was also the main advocate for the Green Jobs Act under the Bush administration.

In 2009, Jones became the Obama administration’s green jobs adviser.

Patrick Sadlon can be reached at [email protected]