Toledo, Ohio: The first green wave?
It’s time for the United States and the Obama Administration to take a stand. Either this country will become a leader in sustainability technology, services and implementation, or it will languish forever behind the European Union, China, the Middle East, South Korea and other nations.
After a promising start by the Obama administration recognizing the importance of clean technologies, particularly clean energy and transportation, we are one year later paralyzed: Copenhagen was a qualified failure, Congress has abdicated passing climate change-related regulations, and the backdoor plan for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases is being challenged in Congress.
Part of the blame has to go to the White House. During President Obama’s first 30 days, a raft of new programs under the Stimulus, about 11 percent of the $787 billion dollars, were announced that would benefit clean technology research and implementation.
By April the administration moved on to health care, leaving the green economy and climate change measures twisting in the wind. Instead of bolstering the effort with statistics, stories and demonstrations of why the world is already moving toward green as the biggest next-generation economic opportunity, the US green D-Day troops landed on the beach without air cover, supplies or a mission objective.
During late spring and summer last year, I spoke with numerous administration and Congressional officials. I proposed that the administration develop and release detailed figures on where green job growth was occurring. I also advised projecting those figures into a future of guaranteed clean technology dominance, with specific stories about where record numbers of new jobs were already being created:
- Toledo, Ohio has 4 percent of its metro workforce (6,000 jobs!) engaged in clean technology production, at all levels including executive, research, marketing and labor. That’s equivalent on the regional level to major industries that have picked up and left the Midwest and moved overseas.
- California’s green economy grew almost three times faster than the rest of its economy during 1995-2008. That job growth was in geographic regions all over the state, including wealthy urban coastal areas as well as in less prosperous and recession-ravaged inland regions.
- The greater Boston metro area has become a hotbed for clean energy research and production through state programs and private sector collaboration, with MIT and Cambridge acting as important science and policy advancement centers.
- Austin, Texas is a leading center for incubating renewable research, production and deployment, demonstrating public-private partnerships and academic collaboration, with the University of Texas.
Obviously, the officials did not understand that supporting “green jobs” means more than talking up the merits of each technology, which was their tact.
They told me, “We can gather and promote those statistics after the stimulus jobs are created.” Or, “The White House staff is taking up every day with health care discussions–there is only one day per month for environmental discussions, so it’s not enough time.” (I couldn’t believe at this day and age, they failed to frame the issues as “economic development” not “environmental” issues!)
The urgency of demonstrating how the clean technology economy is taking root in many Congressional districts and media markets is evident: people just need to see what these new opportunities are without having to understand the complex technologies themselves.
Only through such visceral stories, demonstrations and a few choice statistics will the American public public and media recognize that taking on the challenges of climate change and foreign oil dependency present untold opportunities for domestic jobs and market leadership.
Don’t believe that this stuff is important? Let’s look to China, which now leads the world market in solar and wind technologies. Or Europe, which just announced a Supergrid project, that will combine deployment and research capabilities from nine nations for a renewable energy grid across the Continent.
New green cities are being either planned, designed and built in China, South Korea, The Middle East and even India, based on new clean tech ecosystems combining renewable energy, with water and material conservation processes, along with information technologies. It’s ironic that a US-based company like General Electric needs to base one of its largest clean technology research investment in Abu Dhabi, but that’s the reality of our new economic era.
President Obama and Congress need to illustrate that we are falling behind in this race for the future of our national economy, planet and local livelihoods. They need to shine a solar spotlight on this new world that is emerging all around us, in our factories, universities and research laboratories to make them a recognized engine of our regional economies.
The president can look to a US city for inspiration. Seattle has set a goal of making itself North America’s first carbon neutral city by 2030, which will require a Manhattan Project-type approach among local government, businesses, civic organizations and local experts. Only through well-researched shout-outs from the bully pulpit of the Presidency will such efforts capture and sustain the national imagination.
Our past has proven that once our nation is inspired, we all can move collectively toward a common goal: Let’s use our existing and expected progress in sustainability to define a future of hope and economic regeneration.
Warren Karlenzig is president
of Common Current, an
internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author
of How Green is Your
City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon