“Your Work Is Holy”: Jane Fonda on a Just Transition
A partial standing ovation greeted Jane Fonda. By the time she was done, she got the real deal.
The actor and activist took the stage at Greenbuild in San Francisco this morning to offer encouragement and to press the building industry to advance a just transition away from fossil fuels. Her focus on equitable treatment for building occupants and workers, in response to questions from podcaster Louis Virtel, elicited whoops and applause—as did her frank and funny allusions to past marriages and to her appearance on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to raise $125,000 for her Fire Drill Friday protests at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“Anger is really important”
Fonda called on the building industry to continue pushing for freedom from fossil fuels and pointed to how young progressives are starting to change the world. “It fills me with hope because this is their future,” she noted, adding that young people are rightfully angry. “Right now, anger is really important,” she said.
But so is hope. “I’m a white, famous, wealthy person,” Fonda said. “I have an obligation to be hopeful and to persevere” in the face of a climate crisis she said acutely impacts women in the global south particularly. What’s most important right now is using our resources, including our ability as people of privilege to impact the world, for “people who can barely subsist,” she said. “I hope you all remain hopeful and resilient and persist.”
Even in the face of red tape and handcuffs?
Prompted by Virtel, Fonda discussed a house she and her then-husband Tom Hayden built in Santa Monica. Inspired by the Village Homes in Davis, California, an early exemplar of green building principles, Fonda and Hayden worked with its original architect, Michael Corbett, to create their own off-grid single-family home.
“It was so hard to get a permit,” Fonda said, alluding to her earlier discussion of persistent bureaucratic and policy barriers that to this day can make green building hard to realize. In discussing those barriers, she urged the audience to “keep going—you promise?” Shouting above the applause, she added, “¡Si se puede!”
The conversation turned to Fire Drill Fridays, which started in 2019 as an exercise in civil disobedience. Fonda said her goal was to mobilize people who cared about climate change but had never done anything about it—often older women like herself. She thought people would pay more attention if “this little old lady from Hollywood shows up and gets arrested every week,” adding, “even though they’re putting handcuffs on you, you feel liberated.” Fonda turned 82 in jail. The protests will resume December 2, although the civil disobedience will not. Fonda, who is battling cancer, said between that and COVID, she didn’t think it was a good time to get locked up.
The nooks and crannies of local government
During the pandemic lull in Fire Drill Fridays, Fonda started a new political action committee called the Jane Fonda Climate PAC and also started campaigning for politicians around the country, with a focus on state and local offices. “We have to elect climate champions all the way down the ballot in every state,” she said, adding that many Democrats take fossil fuel money just like Republicans do, and that’s got to stop. Fonda said hers is the only PAC that’s solely focused on the climate crisis. “We’re new, and I’m not a Koch brother,” she joked, which is part of the reason she’s going after smaller fry.
But in addition to that, she said, there are vital decisions being made “in the nooks and crannies of state and local government.” She pointed to offices like the Commissioner of Public Lands in New Mexico—a Latina who has enforced regulations on oil companies and championed renewable energy projects—and the Railroad Commission in Texas. That body, despite its name, actually regulates the fossil fuel industry in the state. “They haven’t weatherized the grid” despite warnings and despite the 2021 power outage that killed 700 people during frigid weather, Fonda said. She is funding a progressive candidate, Luke Warford, she hopes can help change that.
She called on green building champions to make sure they know where the candidates they vote for get their funding. But just as important, she said, are courage and emotional connections to constituents: “Let’s not vote for anyone who doesn’t have empathy and guts.”
We can’t leave workers behind
Green buildings have to be for everybody, Fonda argued, not just the wealthy.
She also emphasized that we need to stop ignoring the real concerns of laborers in the fossil fuel industries. Workers don’t generally do well in big transitions like this, she said, and we have to listen to their concerns and make sure they don’t get left behind this time.
In particular, she said, the fossil fuel industry offers good union jobs that boost people into the middle class and allow them to send their kids to college. The solar and wind industries, for the most part, do not. “We have to change that,” she remarked. “We’re not going to make it if we don’t have labor on our side in this existential fight.”
Fonda ended on a high note, talking about the first time she visited a green office building (“I felt that my thinking was crisper; I felt I could breathe better”) and telling the audience the movement needs to “metastasize”—in a good way. “Your work is holy,” she said. “Don’t stop.”
Melton, P. (2022, November 2). “Your Work Is Holy”: Jane Fonda on a Just Transition. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/newsbrief/your-work-holy-jane-fonda-just-transition