Van Jones: The Face of Green Jobs

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Getty Images

Years before it was announced that Van Jones, the premier green-jobs advocate in the country, was headed to the White House, it was clear that Van Jones was headed to the White House. Thomas Friedman devoted an entire 2007 column to Jones, writing of his lofty goals, "I would not underestimate him." Jones muscled his way through Congress to get a Green Jobs Act passed in 2007 and then lavished praise on Nancy Pelosi and now-Labor Secretary, then-Rep. Hilda Solis. Pelosi returned the favor with a rave book blurb for Jones' 2008 best-seller The Green Collar Economy, writing that Jones possessed "sparkling intelligence, powerful vision, and deep empathy." When he wasn't running his fix-poverty, fix-the-planet nonprofit in Oakland, Calif., he was seeding Obama's transition team with ideas for an all-encompassing environmental/labor/energy/economic plan that would push the country toward a green future. After The New Yorker ran a glowing yet thorough profile of Jones in January, his ascendancy was complete. By the time the green-jobs-heavy stimulus bill passed, Jones may as well have been in the White House, since his philosophy had infected the place.


So despite originally saying he had no interest in moving to Washington, Jones is now part of the executive branch. Officially, he's the "special adviser for green jobs, enterprise, and innovation," a clunky title unbefitting of a man so who's especially talented at turning a phrase. Basically, he's Obama's green-jobs guy. But he's the green-jobs guy who used to be the green-jobs advocate. When I spent the day with him in Washington last week, Jones told me he sees the transition as one of "inspiration to implementation." It's a slogan that summarizes not just Jones' challenge but the whole administration's. The trouble for both: Inspiration is the easy part.

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