US Green Economy Leadership: Now or Never

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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
Institute
.

 

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Copenhagen Ends with Tepid Goals: 2 degree C increase; US to cut CO2 14-17% by 2020

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Tuvalu and its surrounding waters

The Copenhagen climate summit ended today, with a non-binding agreement signed by industrialized countries to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the temperature when industrialization began.

The island nation of Tuvalu led a revolt last week by developing nations against the 2-degree idea, asserting it wanted increases to be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialization levels.

Apisai Ielemia, the Prime Minister of the 10,000-person island chain in the south Pacific, said his people will have “no other inland to run to,” when average ocean waters are expected to rise because of melting polar ice.

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Developing nations also protested a pre-conference paper that was discovered to be circulating among developed nations, with suggested stipulations that have proven to be similar to today’s end agreement.

China and the US, meanwhile, went head to head over what could be quantifiable and verifiable in China. There was even talk early this week of border tariffs that may be imposed by the United States on Chinese imported goods if they do not transparently demonstrate their greenhouse gas reductions.

The agreement called for the US to cut CO2 emissions between 14-17 percent by 2020 from 2025 levels. Presdient Obama called the deal “meaningful and unprecedented.”

Developed countries including the United States will provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help “most vulnerable” poor
nations (Tuvalu?) cut their carbon emissions in a deal that was announced by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday. They will
also pay out $30 billion to developing countries from next year through 2012.

The agreement occurred after US President Barack Obama had at-the-deadline talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh, and South African President, Jacob Zuma

No agreements have been made for emission reductions by 2050, and follow-up talks will be necessary to put binding measures into effect. A scheduled meeting in Mexico City in December 2010 may be moved up to this summer if negotiating countries decide they want to act sooner rather than later in establishing a binding treaty for global greenhouse gas reduction. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, today’s uninspired Copenhagen conclusion also has made it less likely that the Senate will pass greenhouse gas cap and trade regulations during its next session.

That doubt makes the US Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement earlier this month that it will begin to regulate greenhouse gases even more critical in terms of how the US will actually achieve its pledged 14-17% greenhouse gas cuts by 2020.

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 Institute.

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Copenhagen and the Imperative for Sustainable Cities in India

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Mumbai flooding after 2006 deluge

Leading up to President Obama welcoming India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the first official State Dinner of his presidency at the White House, The Bay Area Council Economic Institute yesterday released its new report, “Global Reach: Emerging Ties Between the San Francisco Bay Area and India.”

At a release event in downtown San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club, a panel addressed why, according to the Institute’s president R. Sean Randolph, “No place else in the nation comes close to the economic connections that the Bay Area has in India.”

The sheer numbers of Indians employed by Bay Area firms in such as Cisco, Visa and Semantec are a testament of India moving from a contractual model (think of the call centers in Slumdog Millionaire) to being a true strategic partner, because of its rich base of domestic and ex-pat engineering, management and venture capital talent.

With a fast-growing population of 200 to 300 million earning “disposable income,” Hewlett-Packard and other Silicon Valley product manufacturers have been fighting for market share throughout the South Asian nation. Economic growth may lift some from the slums, but experts worry about the capacity of India to grow so quickly without detrimental climate and other sustainability impacts.

Like China, it now looks like the cities of India–both existing and new–are on the verge of an unparalleled urban population boom.

Michel St. Pierre, Director of Planning and Urban Design from San Francisco-based architectural firm Gensler, was the sole panelist addressing the topic of
Indian urban sustainability of the five other software, biotech and venture capital firms represented at the event.

“By 2022, there will be a need for up to 500 new cities in India to accommodate the urban growth in the country,” St. Pierre said. “Reduced quality of life could greatly affect the success of the nation’s economy if growth is not planned and executed properly.”

St. Pierre said the biggest challenge is to address sustainability in all aspects, with cities such as Mumbai operating its current systems–including transportation, water, energy and environmental analysis–at full capacity and beyond. Then there is the emerging threat of global climate change, particularly flooding.

“The livibility and sustainability of cities like Mumbai and Delhi are critical to the success of the country,” he opined about the city of 14 million, the largest city proper in the world. St. Pierre quoted Prime Minister Singh: “If Mumbai fails, then India fails.”

St. Pierre compared India’s urban growth to that of China in its scale, yet contrasted it with its neighbor to the north in terms of governance. Because India is a democracy, versus China, which has a planned, centrally controlled economy, India cannot so easily create whole-scale national programs around Eco-Cities, which China is in the beginning stages of trying to roll out.

India’s advantage as a democracy is that it more likely to successfully enact public-private partnerships in such complex endeavors as the densification of its cities and in providing more mixed-use real estate with access to public transportation.

Most of India’s so-called Eco-cities projects have attempted to create more healthy and sanitary conditions in such areas as those in the Kerala state by reducing pollution in rivers and drinking water supplies.

Indian cities have also been global leaders in converting their dirty diesel bus fleets to compressed natural gas (CNG), which emits far less particulates and other deadly air pollutants than diesel or gasoline-powered vehicles. Some fleets are even being switched to dual-fuel supplies of CNG and hydrogen.

But so far, there has been less success in redesigning slum areas or other development to take advantage of new innovations in renewable energy, green building and advanced water-conserving technologies, let alone district flood-resistant planning.

And then there are the masses of people, buildings and infrastructure. Mumbai has only .03 percent open space, one of the lowest rates in the world, according to St. Pierre–compared to an average of 5-7 percent open space in US cities. The country also suffers from constant power outages, chronic water shortages, and systemically contaminated water.

With the advent of corporate-backed city-wide sustainability initiatives, including the “Connected Urban Development” program from Cisco (with its global headquarters for development now in Bangalore) and IBM’s Smarter Cities initiatives, India stands to become a fertile land for bringing software innovations into 21st century applications in planning and management of energy, water and transportation.

HP even has its own nascent “Sustainable Cities/ City 2.0” initiative, which is less defined at this point, but hinges upon the mother of all data centers as a massive brain behind Smart Grid, telepresence, intelligent buildings and metro transportation systems.

There is so much more to be launched that can harness the deeply educated pool of talent in India and California’s Silicon Valley, particularly in light of climate change.

All of this brings us back to Obama’s meeting with Prime Minister Singh, and the coming of the Copenhagen climate summit, for which one major point of negotiations is the amount of funding available from developed nations for financing greenhouse gas reductions and climate adaptation in developing nations such as India.

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President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Singh at the G-20 summit.

Concluded Genler’s Michel St. Pierre, “India can lead the way worldwide for sustainability by addressing innovation just as it has done in software and all these other industries.”

Let’s hope that the buzz tonight at the State Dinner over the fresh veggies and herbs from Michelle Obama’s White House garden goes beyond the gossip of celebrities and at least touches on issues so critical to the future of India, the United States and the world at large. 

Warren Karlenzig is President of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability consultancy in San Anselmo, CA. He is author of How Green is Your Ci
ty? The SustainLane US City Rankings
and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

 

   

 

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