Jerome Ringo, President of the Apollo Alliance
TreeHugger: Speaking of loud empty wagons and the power of Fox News, we had Van Jones on TreeHugger Radio shortly after he launched his book, "The Green Collar Economy." He was then brought on by the Obama administration to work on green jobs, which was an arrangement that didn't last very long. Can you tell us what happened with Van Jones?
Ringo: Van Jones is my dear friend, and we just spoke several days ago. Van Jones was a casualty of war. This was an overall effort to discredit a movement that is designed to stimulate the American economy and create green jobs. This was an effort by those who are not interested in alternative energy, those who want to keep us addicted to fossil fuel, big oil companies who promote "drill, baby, drill," who are not interested in us considering wind, solar, hybrid cars, biofuels, efficiency.
And so Van Jones became a casualty of war, and in this business there will be casualties of war. But I believe that Van Jones is going to emerge stronger and be a better and stronger advocate for the movement as he's no longer in that position.
It surely does not demean or diminish the Obama administration's commitment to green as they put their money where their mouth is. And so I'm really excited about where we are. I'm really hopeful and optimistic about the future of Van Jones. He's a great American. He's a great friend, and I support him 150%.
TreeHugger: October 24th was the largest day of climate action in history. All over the world people stood up for the idea of setting 350 parts-per-million as the benchmark for the amount of carbon dioxide that we can safely have in the environment. Do you think this is a good concept to rally around?
Ringo: Well, we've got to rally around something. We've got a scary situation here with respect to the climate. I visited Kenya and saw that the ice cap on Kilimanjaro is melting for the first time in 10,000 years. I flew over Greenland and saw Greenland producing huge amounts of water from meltdown that's affecting sea level rise. I live in Louisiana. I am an evacuee of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Gustav, and Hurricane Ike. So we see the impact, and in my state we're losing an acre of land every 42 minutes to erosion because of sea level rise. So there's a call for action, but there's not a call for putting a band-aid on a cancer.
We've got to take some real action here to curb the impacts of climate change, and it's going to have to be done through a strong public policy and demand by people of the world that their country step up to the plate and do the right thing. Copenhagen is going to send a major message as to which countries are serious and which countries are not, and I just hope that we don't make the mistakes that we made following Kyoto.
TreeHugger: Speaking of Kyoto, you were there for the signing of the Kyoto Accords in 1998. What are you hoping to see come out of the upcoming meetings in Copenhagen?
Ringo: Yes, I was at Kyoto and Montreal and in Berlin, and so I'm real excited about Copenhagen as well. I guess my feeling are a bit mixed. I go into Copenhagen with a level of optimism and a level of disappointment, in that we have not signed a climate bill in the United States as of yet. I was hoping that we could go into Copenhagen with a bill signed. I'm not as optimistic that that will happen, so we go to the table without really taking any tangible action in this country that we can boast about. But what we do bring to the table is with a level of optimism that we did not have going into Kyoto.
We now have an administration that understands the impacts of climate change and demands that we move forward on an action to curb it. We now have a Congress that understands the impact of climate change, for the most part. So we're in better shape from the Hill than we were, say, 10 years ago. But mainly we have an American people that clearly understand and demand that real changes takes place.
I'm hoping that once we return from Copenhagen, two things happen. One, that we ratify the treaty, and I'm sure we will in Congress. But, two, that we come up with an energy bill and a climate change bill that have teeth. We don't need anything cosmetic. We need something that is really going to curb CO2 in the atmosphere, and not interfere with American jobs. We have to strike a balance, and make sure that we don't lose jobs in an effort to clean up the environment and clean up the planet.
It can be done. We put a man on the moon. We can get this job done. And I'm leaving with a level of optimism that the United States will be the leader that we ought to be in curbing CO2 in the atmosphere.
TreeHugger: Do you think that concern and action over the environment has got less partisan in the last nine months since Obama came to Washington?
Ringo: I think it has become less partisan. I think that America came together, because if you look at the numbers, five years ago there was still a debate on whether climate change was real or not. That debate is over. I think that the conservatives have done a good job using scare tactics and getting their message out there to force the American people into believing that climate change is not a reality, and that it's just an effort to control and generate funding for Democrats. But I think the American people are smarter than that. The American people are not going to be deceived by these tactics and they realize in a major way that something has to be done and has to be done now. We have no idea when winter is going to end and summer is going to begin. The American people have seen the impacts daily.
We have experienced the first climate refugees on the continental United States in 2005 when Katrina hit, and the intensity of that storm was a direct result of the warming of the Earth and the warming of the oceans. So the American people, through the challenges we face today, know that this is a real issue and that we've got to deal with it on both sides of the aisle.
You're always going to have opposition that's going to create some doubt, but in the long run, I believe in the intelligence of the American people and that the American people will simply do the right thing.
TreeHugger: Do you think Obama coming to Washington has gotten African-Americans more concerned and involved in things like climate change, biodiversity, renewable energy?
Ringo: Well, I think it's a combination of things that have gotten African-Americans involved. There have been few of us in leadership roles like Van Jones, like myself, like Majora Carter. The numbers are not huge as far as representatives of the colored community. But we have been screaming loud enough, long enough, that people are beginning to listen. Now that the president, an African-American, is in the White House, people are really beginning to listen even more. But it's simply a validation of what we've been screaming about for years. I've been in this movement 25 years, and I've been talking diversity, engagement of the minority community back when some of my colleagues were still kids.
But right now it's wonderful to have these folks on board--like Van Jones, like Majora Carter, and the president--that are fighting to get the minority community involved. Yes, we are seeing movement. Just recently, the NAACP passed the Climate Change Resolution unanimously at the 100th anniversary convention of the NAACP. That was huge. We're now seeing the National Conference of Black Mayors, they're getting involved with their climate change initiatives, and we're seeing African-American mayors around the country. People like Mayor Doug Palmer and mayors from all over in the African-American community.
But also, historically black colleges are now becoming more interested in the environment. Florida A&M; University now has a School of Environment, and we're seeing more African Americans interested in environmental careers. Yale University's School of Forestry is now graduating minority environmental students in their graduate program that are interested in careers in green.
So now we're beginning to see America come together. But that, too, is an evolutionary process. It's not going to happen in a day, but it will happen, and we're moving in the right direction.