[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/08/art.debate2.both2.jpg]Van Jones
President, Green For All
With our economic crises mounting, Americans are desperate for some bold, comprehensive and holistic solutions. Will either candidate propose them?
Here are three questions that I hope both candidates are asked.
1. Would you support or oppose a multibillion-dollar "green economic stimulus" package?
We have bailed out the banks and – one hopes – avoided a financial meltdown. But we are still in a recession. We need a stimulus – and sending people checks to go shop for a day is not going to cut it this time.
To make matters worse, high fuel prices are making people even more desperate. Winter heating bills are about to go through the roof. At least both presidential candidates now admit that we are in a real recession (not a psychological one). But what will either of them do about it?
The smart move would be to pump dollars into the economy to the nation's infrastructure – putting people to work repairing our energy grid, fast-tracking solar energy projects, jump starting wind energy projects, weatherizing and retrofitting homes and buildings. Such a program would have the added benefit of preparing millions of homes for the harsh winter, reducing energy prices, cutting carbon emissions, improving air quality and curbing our oil dependence. Even in tough financial times, a smart investment like that would be foolish to pass up.
A report by the Center for American Progress and economists from the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute is promising. It demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create two million new jobs.
This green recovery program would: create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry; bring back the 800,000 construction jobs that have been lost in the past two years; provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most; help lower energy prices; and actually reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7.
This report was followed quickly by a study just released from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. It suggested that smart federal action could produce as many as four million new green-collar jobs, very soon.
Two million jobs here, four million jobs there: pretty soon you are talking about a real recovery. The question is: will either candidate dare to propose such a major and much-needed investment, after the $700 bailout? And if so, then question number two would be totally fair.
2. How would you pay for such a package – in light of the ongoing war expenses, the massive Bush deficit and the $700 billion bailout?
Creative financing can be used to fund the green recovery – and not the dodgy kind that got us into the financial crisis. The government could set up a massive revolving loan fund, dedicated to accelerating retrofits of buildings. Borrowers could repay the loan fund out of their own energy savings. To boost the deployment of renewable energy technology, the government could also make smart use of federal loan guarantees, which could get private capital flowing without costing the government a dime on the front end.
Done right, the costs of such a program could be largely offset over time by savings on energy costs. As I point out in my new book, The Green Collar Economy, a green recovery package would also have the added benefit of reviving domestic construction sectors (through massive retrofits of millions of buildings) and manufacturing sectors (production of wind turbines, solar panels, etc.). Tax revenues generated through a revived economy would help offset the expenses and pay back the investment.
Those outcomes a whole lot more than the massive bail out of Wall Street promises to deliver. I believe a green bail out would give us twice the impact, at half the price.
But there is one source of funding that nobody has yet thought to tap. That's why I would love to hear an answer to question three.
3. In the name of energy security, would you be willing to redirect and redeploy 10 PERCENT of the Pentagon's budget to achieve true, lasting energy independence for the American people?
The threats to national security have changed since the days of clashing armies and nuclear stalemate. A great deal of our military expenses today are dedicated simply to policing the world's oil supply lines. In effect, we are paying billions in military costs – just to protect and defend our ability to spend billions more on energy costs.
In other words: the main threat to national security is our excessive reliance on overseas energy sources. And we spend an ungodly amount of money on military expenses to maintain that vulnerability.
So why not take 10 percent of the Pentagon's budget and plow it into new technologies and smart infrastructure projects? Those dollars could jobs in: constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems, expanding mass transit and freight rail; retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency; generating wind power, solar power and advanced bio-fuels.
This idea could actually have a lot of appeal. The liberals should like the idea of pounding "swords into solar panels." And hawks should like the idea of pulling financial rug out from under those who coddle our enemies.
One key concept is military strategy is this: "Do NOT do the thing you MOST want to do. Do the thing your enemy would LEAST like you to do." Which proposal do you think Osama Bin Laden would fear the most: billions for more bombers? Or billions more invested in our capacity to create our own energy at home?
Fortunately, America’s number one resource is not oil. America’s number one resource is her people. With the proper tools, training and technology, American workers can retrofit our energy infrastructure and reboot our economy. America’s solution is simple: we need green jobs – now.
The question is whether, in the wake of the $700 billion bailout, either candidate is willing to suggest that we nee another one – to bail out the people and the planet, too.
Editor's note: Van Jones, president of Green For All, is the author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, published this month by Harper Collins. He is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
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