Many Baby Boomers have been recently saying how glad they are to be at the end of their lives and careers rather than at the beginning. Who could possibly muster hope in the face of the declining job market, an assault on the middle class, environmental degradation, financial ruination, dismemberment of public services and the high cost of education?
And yet, after hearing Van Jones speak Wednesday night at Kalamazoo College, I wished I were 20 again.
"You have an extraordinary opportunity to write history in today's highly unusual situation," said Jones to more than 400 students. "In just six weeks, you have totally transformed what's possible in this country."
He was referring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has proliferated to 900 U.S. cities and spread from London to Sydney as a protest against corporate greed and income inequality as well as a call for fairness to the 99 percent.
"Your generation is bigger than the Baby Boomers, more diverse, more technologically savvy, ecologically aware and communitarian in values," said Jones. "Your enthusiasm made history in 2008 [with the election of Barak Obama], then you sat down in 2010 and made history [with the GOP takeover of Congress and state governorships] and then got up again in 2011 [with Occupy Wall Street]. Whatever you do, you make history--and now you have a chance to restore the nation."
Who wouldn't want to be a part of the next generation?
Yet the activist and author of Green Collar Economy has been attacked for promoting green jobs because it makes money for Al Gore (who was already rich), and for being a militant, racist, radical Marxist, 9/11 conspiracy theorist and bad-mouthing GOP-hater (according to Glen Beck).
Such name calling is a tactic used by people who would rather ignore our world's energy predicaments and hold on to a past when we didn't worry about such things. They pooh-pooh climate change, want to drill for more oil and natural gas, mine more coal, minimize regulations, reduce taxes, blame immigrants and gays for our problems and cut public services.
Jones, however, is focused on the future and has an impressively long list of accomplishments to prove it, including TIME Magazine's recognition of him in 2009 as one of the world's 100 most influential people.
"Everything good for the environment is a job," Jones said. "People could be put back to work by building a green economy with solar panels, wind turbines and retrofitting homes as a start."
So far, 2.4 million green jobs have been created including 100,000 in the solar industry and 100,000 in wind. There will be three million more if Congress passes the President's jobs bill, according to the Brookings Institution.
Continuing to depend on fossil fuels for our energy is a futile endeavor as they are limited in supply. They are also dirty when burned, affecting both our health and the earth's. This fact is not only accepted by environmental "hawks" but by the U.S. military, which is the "biggest driver of green energy," said Jones.
A September report of the Pew Charitable Trusts explains how and why the Pentagon is reducing its use and reliance on fossil fuels. "From Barracks to Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces" states that DoD clean energy investments increased 300 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, and are projected to eclipse $10 billion annually by 2030.
The Pentagon also assumes climate change is integral to every scenario of its planning process, said Jones, because it is seen as a dangerous "threat multiplier," which means that if left unchecked, global warming could lead to resource wars, environmental refugees and failed states in Asia, Africa and the Middle East--places where American troops are stationed today.
"We can't drill and burn our way to prosperity but we can invest and invent [in a green economy]," said Jones, who called on the audience to be enterprising entrepreneurs, use smart technology to its best advantage and re-invent the American Dream.
He called this a moral challenge akin to those posed by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, whose messages conveyed that we need the wisdom of all people to solve our problems. That would include the wealthiest one percent along with the 99 percent.
The infighting in Congress and high-stakes lobbying practices on Congress are not helping the country. Some people even believe representative democracy is over. However, now is the time for Americans to put America back on track themselves by re-establishing our democracy. As 96-year-old Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs said, "We are the leaders we have been waiting for."
The young get this and the rest of us--no matter what our age--can follow their lead and work enthusiastically toward the future!