An Interview With Environmental Activist Van Jones

For the Obama administration, aggressively pursuing a new energy strategy will be a top priority. Environmental activist Van Jones, author of "The Green Collar Economy," agrees with Obama that a new policy can simultaneously create jobs, stimulate the economy and wean America off foreign oil. Jones, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told NEWSWEEK's Daniel Stone how the new president should proceed. Excerpts:

Stone: With the government spending billions on the bailout, how will Obama find money to fund an energy revolution?
Our best economists are saying this is the time to do some deficit spending in a smart way. We just had a silly stimulus where we passed out checks to everyone, who then turned around and went to Wal-Mart and bought flat-screen TVs that stimulated the economy of China. Then we did this $700 billion bailout that didn't stimulate things very well either. Between now and March there will likely be a third stimulus. I think it should be a green stimulus. Don't pass out checks to people.

What's an example of a green program that can pay dividends quickly?
The low-hanging fruit is a massive program to retrofit America, to weatherize millions and millions of American buildings to leak less energy. That's not some new space-age technology, that's using the caulk gun; it's what we have now. Starting there, we can take existing technology and an idle workforce and power ourselves through the recession.

Let's revisit the campaign for a moment. What's wrong with an "all of the above" approach?
When is that ever true? If you went to the doctor and he said, "Oh, you have a problem, so you should just try everything," you'd get a new doctor.

But that approach does allow for short-term gains while also investing for the future.
Those people say they want solar and wind, but they also want tar sands and oil shale and dirty stuff too. How is that leadership? They're trying to pull our energy strategy in opposite directions. On one side you have the most carbon-intensive strategies and on the other you have clean-energy solutions. But the problem is that at best you stay at zero. This is a time for heroes, not zeros.

Are people overstating the role that government can play in solving these problems?
At the end of the day, government won't solve this problem—private enterprise and entrepreneurship will solve global warming. However, markets work according to rules, and right now the rules are wacky. They favor polluters. The minute we send a new price signal that the old age of fossil-fuel production is over and we're turning toward a new day, the biggest polluters will jump the fence.

What's the first step?
First you have to change the rules. We'll have to put a price on carbon. We need policymakers to tell us that we need to produce a certain amount of energy with renewables. Fundamentally, [the problem is] that carbon is free to dump. Once that changes, the market will respond.

Even if these steps do boost the U.S. economy, global climate challenges will take more than just American effort.
That's where we have an opportunity to lead. Asia's ability to figure this out by itself in the next 10 years is pretty limited. Our ability to figure this out is almost limitless. We have this economic opportunity and obligation to help ourselves, but also to lead the way for Asia and Africa and South America to boot up clean. And if we get renewable-energy solutions first, we get to sell it or give it to everyone.