Van Jones delivered the final keynote address at Netroots Nation today, stopping in Austin to talk about green jobs and the political prospects for addressing both the energy and climate woes of the country. The message from the netroots, he said, should be clear: “We cannot drill and burn our way out of this problem. If we do, we will burn this planet.”
“We can say no, we’re not going to drill and burn out way out. We’re going to invent and invest our way out,” said Jones.
Jones, the founder of the green jobs and environmental justice group Green For All, just returned from a trip to the Arctic with a group of political and business leaders that included Tom Daschle, Madeline Albright, and Jimmy Carter.
He noted that one of the things that affected him the most on the trip was talking to Jimmy Carter, a Democrat who also became president amid energy and economic strains. The netroots crowd is widely backing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, and Jones used that example as a cautionary tale for the online activists gathered in the room.
Jones focused on the current collusion of energy and economic crises, and about what the netroots need to be pulling for going forward, stressing that getting Obama elected will only be the beginning of the struggle. Like Carter, he’ll face significant struggles in addressing a litany of concerns, foremost among them being climate, energy, and economic downturn.
“You can probably get him elected, but you probably cannot get him reelected unless we are very intelligent right now,” said Jones. “Now it the time to think about reelection.”
He said that should Obama get elected, he’ll face a lot of backlash from conservatives. “They’re going to have nothing to do but run their mouths against this president,” he warned, and noted that those with vested interests in fossil fuels are likely to try to encourage lower-income Americans to fight against new climate and energy policies for fear that they’ll drive higher prices. It’s the job of the netroots to send the message that this is “not something we’re going to do to poor and vulnerable people. It’s something we’re going to do for and with vulnerable people” – and that new climate and energy policies are the only way to change the tide in the country.
Jones emphasized the pursuit of a new, green economy as the solution to all these problems – weaning the country of fossil fuels, giving consumers other options, creating new jobs, and including historically disadvantaged communities into the conversation.
“We have to change the terms of the debate,” said Jones. “We’ve been getting our butts whooped by the ‘drill, drill, drill’ mantra.”
He called for a “Green New Deal,” led by a coalition of progressives from across regions, demographics, and interests. It will be this coalition that needs to come together to offer solutions that can counter the talking points of those who represent the old economy. It was message that played well with this crowd of online activists. “It’s our turn now,” he said.