For Van Jones, simply establishing a green economy is not enough. Instead, America must establish what he calls “equitable ecocapitalism”: a clean energy economy that provides equal opportunity and new jobs. An economy, Jones said, “that Dr. King would be proud of.” 

Jones, a former White House adviser serving as a distinguished visiting fellow in the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School, challenged those who do not believe in the power of clean energy during a Sept. 27 campus lecture.
Fossil fuels are unacceptable, in Jones’ view. “You think oil is cool, but to run your country based on oil and coal is to run your country based on death,” he said. Fossil fuels, Jones noted, are made up of the remains of living creatures that died a long time ago – our biological ancestors. “So of course it shouldn’t shock you that if you pull death out of the ground to run your engines, your power stations, that you will eventually have death in the skies and the seas. You are running a society based on death!” he said.

Instead, Jones said, America should grow its economy based on wind and solar power. “You want to stop sending people out to the Appalachians drilling holes in the mountains and risking their lives,” he said. “America’s future is not down those holes. You want to see the future, look up.” Look up, he said, at the “Saudi Arabia” of solar and wind power that America has the potential to harness. 

Harnessing this solar and wind power, according to Jones, should create jobs, particularly for the urban poor. Jones spoke passionately about both poverty and America’s economic prosperity. His father, he said, had told him that he had to “climb the ladder of poverty” on his own, and that society had to make sure he had that ladder to climb.

“I believe we have a moral obligation as a country to make sure we include everybody,” he said. “If we can put America back to work, we can pull America back together.” All of this, he added, was a challenge for the rising generation: moving America from “this hyper-consumptive, casino-based, ecologically reckless economy” to one that is productive, integrated, and ecologically responsible.