November 19, 2007 4:00 AM PST
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These efforts seem to be bringing together groups that maybe haven't worked together to the same extent before. You have unions, politicians, environmental activists, businesspeople. What role is Silicon Valley playing so far, or what are you hearing from venture capitalists or from start-up green-tech companies?
Jones: I spoke at the Investors' Circle a year ago and people were very receptive. The Full Circle Fund is going to be giving my organization, the Ella Baker Center, a grant to support our work.
The Full Circle Fund is a bunch of philanthropists who get their money out of Silicon Valley's young entrepreneurs. People are interested, and it's trying to turn that interest into actual outcomes.
The good thing about the group on the venture capital side, about the Solar Richmond project, is that it really is creating a trained workforce of people from disadvantaged backgrounds to do this work. The big challenge is to get the solar industry to really follow through with hiring the people to complete the program. Each entrepreneur has to think seriously about their own bottom line, but I think that it's important for a business leader trying to do the right thing.
If we don't include everybody in the green economy, we set up the potential for a backlash alliance between poor people and polluters. That would be very dangerous.
What could ensure that the jobs created would offer a chance for advancement, say for someone installing solar panels who then prefers a managerial role?
Jones: There's nothing guaranteed, but the best green job would be a union job where some of those protections are there. Short of that, we have to make sure our community colleges and job training programs are focused on green career pathways and not just that first job.
What kinds of surprises are you running into with this project?
Jones: There's still such a cultural gap between low-income people who are first-time job seekers and solar entrepreneurs; that getting our trained folks hired has been harder than I expected. We just have to communicate better with the employers what they want and need to see at the interview level. We'll get there.
What kinds of things do you wish were addressed more when people talk about green jobs?
Jones: It's so important that we have a green economy that's not just about reclaiming throwaway stuff. It also needs to be about reclaiming thrown-away people, neighborhoods, and children.
This country is 5 percent of the world's population. We produce 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution and we have 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Most of those prisoners are low-income people of color locked up for committing nonviolent crimes including drug offenses.
What ties those two stats together is an underlying ethic of disposability. We still have a society where we think we have throwaway stuff and throwaway people. We don't believe that's true.
Any inventions around the corner that you think provide extra promise?
Jones: I'd love to see dramatic advances in battery and energy-storing technology and also superconductivity for our power lines so that we can waste less of the energy we do generate. I'm very excited about smart grid technology.
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