Does caring for the environment
always come at the expense of jobs? Is creation care something that
must be traded off against people care? I'm reading a great book right
now that addresses just that issue. I'm reading it with my pastor,
Leroy Barber, because we care about the beautiful but broken South
Atlanta neighborhood our church calls home. Leroy is president of Mission Year and is a speaker at this year's Flourish Conference for church leaders on creation care.
The book is Van Jones' The Green Collar Economy. Van Jones is the founder and president of Green For All,
and his work is significant for Christians who want to do community
development in environmentally-friendly ways and for those who want to
find ways out of the "environment vs. jobs" debate. Jones points out
the many ways in which solving environmental problems can be done with
justice. His position is that as long as we're going to all the trouble
to create a clean energy economy, we might as well make a renewed
effort to tackle discrimination and inequality, too.
the involvement of faith communities directly and challenges the
"so-called progressives [who] snarl the word 'Christian' as if it were
an insult or the name of a disease." He presses activists to become
problem-solvers, to become more about "proposition" than "opposition."
In a short list of principles for a new movement, Jones advocates fewer
"issues," more solutions; fewer "demands," more goals; fewer "targets,"
more partners; and less "accusation," more confession.
Leroy's recent post on Sojourners blog captures how he thinks about environmental issues:
it possible to create a new economy in the hood that would create jobs,
lower energy costs, reduce the carbon footprint of an urban
neighborhood, and allow neighbors to get to know one another at the
same time? I think there just might be a way to make this a reality. I
would like to green my hood.
The problem in
urban neighborhoods is that they are some of the most dangerous places,
environmentally speaking. Trash dumps, tow lots, expressways, and
chemical plants create places that are quite unsafe. Our neighborhoods
can begin to help themselves and lower some of the risk by starting their own green projects.
We could hire and train people to do home audits for seniors and
families in homes that are full of lead paint, leaky windows, clogged
gutters, and uninsulated water heaters. This training would give jobs
to people and lower energy bills for residents, as well as reduce the
carbon footprint of the neighborhood.
We can grow neighborhood gardens and farmers’ markets, which would offer places for neighbors to have better access to nutritious food
and vegetables that are otherwise very costly. When we make
neighborhoods walkable and livable, neighbors can get around without
driving, and that means less asthma-causing air pollution, fewer
emergency room visits, and fewer sleepless nights for worried parents. Caring for the environment has hit the hood and is now a major urban issue,
and people of faith have opportunity to offer good news in a new way.
This is no longer just an issue of global warming and saving rain
forests — it is about protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens.
the naked, visiting the prisoner, and feeding the hungry now needs to
include providing clean air, safe streets, and healthy neighborhoods
for our poor urban neighbors. I am committed to greening my hood for a
number of reasons. If you want to learn more about it, you should check
out The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones. This is his idea, and I have become a fan.
Leroy and I are searching for other Christians who have read The Green Collar Economy—or the related work by Thomas Friedman, called Hot, Flat and Crowded
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)—and who have ideas and stories to
tell about environmental actions that create rather than threaten jobs,
especially in this economy. Please write me if we can feature your work or the work of others you know.
To meet Leroy Barber and other Christian leaders who are looking at environmental issues in a new way, check out the Flourish Conference, May 13-15, 2009 in Atlanta.