In our feature length documentary, “Houston We Have A Problem,” Van Jones, founder of Green for All and author of “Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our two Biggest Problems” states, “We need to honor the people in the oil industry, the coal industry, at this point they’re heroes in a way…stop the name calling, let’s work together. It is possible to go from the oil age to the solar age in a way where the wisdom and the genius of our existing energy sector is tapped and utilized. They know more about energy, better then anybody else. We now need to see that genius for the next stage.” Doesn’t sound like the Van Jones you’ve seen portrayed in the media lately, does it?
Attacks between the Left and Right have gotten this country nowhere, especially when it comes to discussions about energy. This theme resonates loud and clear throughout the documentary, to quote the director/producer Nicole Torre, “this is not a pro ‘Big Oil’ film, nor an anti-oil film, this is a pro domestic energy film.” After viewing “Houston” at the Cambridge Film Festival in England, Chris Peck wrote that “the film bores deep into the western world’s dependence upon oil, unearthing some uncomfortable truths. In particular it questions why political figures have constantly allowed the ‘sleeping dog’ of a global energy crisis to lie… (The Director) Torre approaches the issue with restraint, allowing an array of genuine Texan oil men to tell their own stories with candid honesty and humour and this is to the film’s benefit.” In the program guide at the Wine Country Film Festival, Asalle Tanha writes that “Director Nicole Torre has brilliantly gathered exclusive interviews with an A-list cast of Texas oil barons, Wildcatters, and top executives, including the former president of Shell Oil, the chairman of BP Capital, Sen. Harry Reed, the US Senate Majority Leader, and Middle East adviser Joanne Herring, who married the founder of Enron and was the basis for Julia Roberts’ role in “Charlie Wilson’s War.” You may just be pleasantly surprised to hear what they have to say. ‘Houston We Have a Problem’ is a devastatingly fresh documentary that stands out in the surge of films that address ‘green’ issues. Torre’s boldness in approaching oilmen shows that the energy problem extends far beyond profit, politics, and party lines. The film is nothing short, as David Clifton, the president of Rational Broadcasting puts it of ‘a masterpiece.’”
I’m proud to have been a producer on the film especially after it premiered at AFI-Dallas in March to a mixed crowd of Texas oil supporters and environmentalists and almost all congratulated us because we had made a film seeking solutions, not blame. That’s exactly the response we had hoped for, people to start thinking about solutions, together, as a country. As KERA-PBS wrote in their Art Seek blog review after the screening, “wildcatters got us here, and wildcatters are going to lead us out.” AFI-Dallas posted an interview on Vimeo. The film has also shown at the Maui International Film Festival, the Calgary International Film Festival, the San Diego Film Festival and has upcoming screenings scheduled for Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Austin Film Festival, and the San Francisco Documentary Festival. I’m especially excited to be part of “50 documentaries from 50 countries” in a planned worldwide tour as part of the United Nations Association Film Festival under their theme “Energy and the World.”
Van Jones wrote in his book, “the best answer to our ecological crisis also responds to our socio-economic crisis. The surest path to safe streets and peaceful communities are not more police and prisons, but ecologically sound economic development. And that same path can lead us to a new green economy.” As Carl Davidson writes in his review of the book, “Jones is a strategic thinker who gives definite answers to the question, ‘Who are our friends, who are our adversaries?’ He narrows the target to speculative capital with roots in carbon-based energy industries and the militarism needed to secure their supplies. He seeks close allies in the wider working class of all nationalities, especially in the Blue-Green Alliance formed on the core partnership of the United Steelworkers with the Sierra Club. He also looks for allies among faith communities, environmentalists in the suburbs and rural populations suffering at the hands of anti-ecological agribusiness, offering a vision of wind farms and solar arrays for sustainable rural development. He sees the importance of cutting back defense spending and opposing unjust wars abroad.”
This is radical thinking from a self-described “radical, rowdy black nationalist.” But as exemplified in our film, he isn’t the only one thinking this way and most are far from what Glenn Beck could term “Communists.” It’s the kind of thinking to move this country from dependency on foreign energy resources. That’s why I was so excited when I heard that Van Jones had been named “Special Advisor to President Obama on Green Jobs.” Here was a man who was right for the job, a job that required immediate attention. Judith Lewis writes in her LA Times article, “Meet the Real Van Jones,” that for 20 years, Jones worked trying to get Americans to pay attention to the urban poor. “We would call newspapers, television stations, saying kids are dying, we’re going to funerals every weekend. ‘Not interested.’ The deeper he got into it, …the more he realized that the environment was central to the kind of social justice he cared about. For the affluent lefties in the audience, he teased, environmentalism might be about polar bears and other “charismatic megafauna.” But “in the poor part of town, when they say, ‘Oh, the environment is terrible,’ they’re talking about air pollution, asthma, cancer clusters and birth defects.” As Carl Davidson states, “putting young people to work at low-to-medium skill levels retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency seemed like a no-brainer, so the demand for “Green Jobs, Not Jails” was raised.
In the film, Van Jones believes, “we have to have the determination as a people, as a country to continue to move aggressively into alternative energies.” From the blog, ODE, “Van Jones redefines ‘green’ change-makers from the rich or the fringe to everyday people that are looking for ways to be successful in the long term. Instead of distancing himself and others from entrepreneurs by idealizing them, he looks for ways that regular people can become progressive.” There is also a good interview with Jones from a few years back at Poptech.com.
Sadly, those committed to the past, a conservative mindset that would rather attack then seek solutions, quickly portrayed Van Jones as a “Communist.” Another McCarthy-era “Witchhunt” was ignited, first by Cliff Kincaid, of America’s Survival, when he wrote, “it appears that a Communist Party spin-off, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), was instrumental in some way in getting Jones his job.” As Harvey Wasserman writes in his article “Obama has feed his Green Jones to King CONG,” “like millions of Americans he (Jones) signed a petition asking for an investigation into the 9/11 felling of the World Trade Center. He used the dreaded term “asshole” to accurately describe some Republicans, and then used it to describe himself and his friends.” Fox News fueled the attacks with misinformation and as papers like the National Review followed up, it soon became obvious that Van Jones could no longer do a proper job for the President and he resigned.
I really don’t care what Van Jones did in the past as a “radical,” just like I don’t care that T. Boone Pickens (also in our film), formerly with BP Oil, now promoting wind power, helped fund the inaccurate “Swift Boat publicity” that harmed John Kerry’s Presidential run. I don’t believe President George W. Bush’s past drinking and cocaine snorting was a reflection on his presidency. People change, Thank God, and it was all about change for Van Jones. Changing this country for the better. As Lewis writes in her article for the LA Times, “These days, Jones is far from the wild-eyed radical Kerpen described. In fact, he has been moving to the center, where the power is, for years. He has spent his time writing grants, appealing to city councils and working with legislators such as Nancy Pelosi on green-jobs bills. He sat on the board of the Apollo Alliance, a group more-radical environmentalists have criticized as a mainstream sellout for its work linking industry with a greener agenda. And his nonprofit advocacy group, Green For All, recently launched a program to involve the private sector in building an ‘inclusive green economy.'”
“With clarity and verve, Jones finally brought to the mainstream the critical message that what’s good for the environment is also good for the economy… finally injected into the mainstream the message that there will be no prosperity, no full employment, and no survivable planet without the necessary and doable conversion to a green-powered Earth,” writes Wasserman. This is the message that comes from both Big Oil and the Sierra Club in our film, “Houston We Have A Problem.” We can free ourselves of foreign oil, but it’s going to take everything, (solar, wind, geo-thermal, algae, nuclear, clean coal and even new oil fields like the ones recently discovered by Occidental Petroleum in Kern County, California) but most of all it’s going to take brave new thinking, new ideas. We can’t be frightened of the new thinkers because all ideas usually start off radical, look at Darwin. As Lewis writes, “Jones’ departure is a big loss. He should be judged not by a few missteps but by his long history of working toward a highly desirable but elusive goal: an environmental movement that crosses boundaries of place, skin color and class. By working to bring green jobs to ‘the poor part of town’ and involving mainstream environmental leaders in the cause of fighting poverty, Jones has made a huge contribution…one can only hope that this… will have the positive side effect of galvanizing support for his work; that it will call attention to urban poverty, pollution and his ideal of a green economy.”
I agree with Harvey Wasserman, “Van Jones, as imperfect as the rest of us, was Obama’s critical firestarter in a green-powered revolution that is decades overdue… Pushing Van Jones aside is a major coup for the destroyers of the planet, and a big loss for those of us who would re-power and save it.” We need lots more Americans like Van Jones, otherwise the real terrorists win.