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Can Solving Global Warming Save Our Economy?
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[U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee and Bracken Hendricks from the Center for American Progress have a new book on energy, politics and America's role in the future, Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy. They offered us this exclusive excerpt. We think it's interesting enough to provoke some useful discussion. -Ed.]

Today we are at a crossroad, but one thing is certain, that the status quo will not long stand. Inaction in the face of mounting global warming promises an ever-growing litany of harms, from sea level rise to mounting storms, drought, wild fires, famine, and disease. But the less often told story is that meeting this challenge head on with a crash program to rebuild the foundation of our economy and deploy new clean energy solutions can be a tremendous source of opportunity for economic growth, stronger communities, and greater social equity. If we are smart, we will demand nothing less than bold action from our leaders and the development of a broad based popular movement for change, starting now.

John Kennedy's Apollo Project proved the importance of backing vision with policy and investment. Meeting the challenge meant making a commitment to expanding the capabilities of the nation in both industrial might and intellectual prowess. Just as the expansion of the railways would never have accelerated without Lincoln's policies, Apollo would never have gotten to the moon without vigorous government action.

So Kennedy gave his people the most important service a leader can provide. He gave them a goal. He provided trusted leadership in rallying to that goal. He recognized the innate but dormant qualities of his countrymen. He offered them a compelling vision for putting those qualities to work. He then mobilized the resources to see the job through.

Today America is ready for that same kind of leadership. We face challenges every bit as daunting as we did in the days of Apollo, including security concerns. This time the threat is from Middle Eastern oil instead of Russian ICBMs. This time we are in an economic race for the jobs of the next century. What's more, we now face the greatest challenge ever faced by all of humankind at the same time - global warming.

Success will not involve instant gratification. Our forthcoming clean-energy revolution, like the original Apollo Project will not be easy. It will not be instantaneous or without risk. Kennedy knew how to face such major challenges - with action. "All this," he said, "will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."

No one ever climbed a mountain they believed could not be climbed. No one ever started a business they believed would fail. And no nation ever undertook a major initiative it believed was destined for dust. When Kennedy said America was going to the moon, he did not believe we would fall short. So too, America will not commit itself to tackle the challenge of global warming or break free from the clutches of Middle Eastern oil until we have confidence that we can build a clean-energy future that will be brighter than the world we are living in today.

Why has America not yet risen to the challenges of climate change and oil dependence to date?

The problem is not inadequate information or insufficient scientific talent. It is not even the relentless obstructionism of vested interests, though we can't underestimate the tenacity and cleverness of the oil and automotive industries and the politicians indebted to them. Rather, the problem is an overabundance of fear. Fear that we cannot solve the problem. Fear that we cannot change the course we are on.

Rebuilding Communities to Save our Planet

Today in American towns, cities, and neighborhoods, from the South Bronx to South Dakota, we are failing to invest in our people and in the places we call home, and many communities are hurting. Even amid growth and prosperity, we are failing to invest in the basic infrastructure that makes our cities function. From transit and rail to schools, parks, roads, and energy systems, basic investments are deferred at a high price to our competitiveness and long-term prosperity. The oldest and largest association of professional engineers in the country, the American Society of Civil Engineers, gave America a "poor" grade of D for an estimated $1.6 trillion in unmet infrastructure needs for 2005. As a proportion of gross domestic product, our investment rates are declining. For example, while population, GDP, and demand increased markedly in recent decades, annual investment in electrical transmission infrastructure actually declined by 60 percent, resulting in a major shortfall in capacity between 1975 and 2000.

America's rail system was once the envy of the world; today we fight for basic funding to keep it afloat. In rural communities and inner cities, our schools and public buildings are in disrepair--under-funded, over-crowded, and aging. But reconstruction of our public buildings offers a chance to modernize with energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green construction. We rely on an electric grid that uses nineteenth-century technology to power a twenty-first-century economy. From New York to Los Angeles our roads and bridges, wastewater treatment plants, ports, and transit systems go begging for maintenance funds-- wasting energy and losing business opportunities. Concrete is not being poured, steel is not being tied, and investments in public works are being allowed to crumble. The bustling and friendly Main Streets of mid-western mythology are becoming the shuttered relics of a bygone age as factories close and longtime residents see their children seek opportunities elsewhere.

According to Apollo Alliance cofounder Joel Rogers, executive director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, "The U.S. is virtually unique among developing countries in not distinguishing between capital accounts and operating budgets." This sounds like the rhetoric of a revolutionary accountant, but it is exactly that failure to distinguish revenue-positive investments, like infrastructure, from wasteful spending that impoverishes our legacy of reconstruction in communities and sinks us ever deeper into climate crisis. "There was a time when America made long-term, large-scale investments that secured a prosperous future, from the Louisiana Purchase to the Erie Canal, to the transcontinental railroad, the GI Bill, and the Interstate Highway System. These were all big-ticket items, but they paid for themselves in the long run," Rogers says. As he points out, "Jefferson didn't have the money lying around for the Louisiana Purchase. A new Apollo Project for energy is appealing because it is part of a class of investments that pay for themselves--it is not merely redistribution of wealth--and it makes our whole country better off."

Rogers notes that in today's economy there are two distinct ways to make money, but only one is accountable to workers and responsible to the environment and communities. One is centered only on commodity prices and the cheapest production of goods, while the other is focused on adding value, distinctiveness, and quality. "A low-road economy treats people like roadkill and the earth like the sewer. It is empirically bad for workers and the environment, but it is most certainly profitable. A high road, however, can also be profitable; indeed, for an advanced economy it is the only way for the long term," says Rogers.

A new Apollo Project for energy presents us with exactly this choice between two diverging paths to accumulation and profitability, but if we rely just on individual firms that are not committed to sustaining the broader national economy or improving living standards for the public at large, it will take too long to save the economy or the climate. "You won't have the society left to reconstruct if you wait for firms alone to act," says Rogers. "The choice is a social choice and a political choice."

A high-road economy judges economic performance not just by increasing prosperity, but also by sharing the fruits of that prosperity. By that measure the United States succeeded very well from its founding until the early 1970s. The U.S. economy not only grew like crazy, but it also shared the benefits, opportunities, and final results in broad ways, creating the largest middle class the world had ever known. Furthermore, it relied on institutions and rules, like trade unions and policies, to share that "productivity dividend" to keep a society fit to live in. A new Apollo Project is not only about fighting climate change; it is about turning our whole economy in a new direction.

Metropolitan areas are one of the natural pillars of both clean energy and a high-road economy. They share denser infrastructure, provide ports of entry, and are the locus of new industries and the leading lights of a new and changing economy. Metropolitan regions are also much more energy efficient than sprawling cities and offer large opportunities for improvement by rebuilding modern infrastructure. As Rogers says, "In the past, it was the same politics that beat back climate solutions that have defeated metro areas, dividing a mostly white labor movement from people of color, separating environmental interests from the functioning of successful and responsible businesses. Clean energy can claim opportunity for people who have been excluded from the old energy economy. It gives environmentalists a way to move beyond end-of-pipe solutions and avoid disaster in the first place. And it shows high-road businesses that their real enemy is not regulation in the public interest but low-road predatory businesses that are profiting off of lower standards and eating away at workers, communities, and the global environment."

Creating energy independence can arrest this downward spiral and reinvigorate both inner cities and rural America. New jobs are being created today in emerging industries, from manufacturing energy-saving technologies, to producing biofuels and wind turbines, to build- ing a new generation of transit infrastructure, constructing high-performance green schools, and rewiring the electric grid. These are jobs that cannot easily be outsourced because they represent investments in our communities through construction of infrastructure, shifting from imported to domestic energy resources, and manufacturing close to local markets. These are jobs that cross the economic spectrum, from architects and engineers to craftspeople and laborers. Energy independence and climate solutions mean real investment.

Communities are on the verge of a new economic growth, to be achieved by harnessing the power of new technology and renewed productive investment. According to research by Clean Edge, investments in biofuels, wind, solar, and hydrogen fuel-cell technology together will mushroom from $55 billion in 2006 to $226 billion in the next decade. By using community hiring, apprenticeship programs, local ownership, and other smart forms of economic development, those investments can drive their benefits deep into communities that have been bypassed by past expansions. Capital is currently leaving local economies to buy imported energy. Reinvesting that capital creates new opportunity for communities and can put communities back on track across America.

A Case in Point: A Newer Newark, From Brownfields to Green Buildings

Newark, New Jersey, is not always associated with hope, green strategies, or opportunity. Too often, renewal for cities like Newark has meant the cynical urban renewal of the 1960s, which broke up communities and left them scarred with massive impersonal projects or block after block of demolished buildings. Those were sacrifice zones carved by highways to funnel commuters through the inner city from suburban homes to work downtown without interference. Newark's image is scarred, too; it's more famous for its riots and insurance fires than for its history as a transportation crossroads and a cradle of industry, or for the rich ecological heritage of the Garden State.

But in the heart of Newark a community organizer named Baye Adofo-Wilson is taking a green tack to rebuild his economically distressed neighborhood. As executive director of the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, he is bringing new life to the Lincoln Park neighborhood, known locally as the "Bottom." It's a name with a double meaning: the bottom of a hill in the center city and the bottom of the economic ladder. The latter meaning is not lost on the community's residents, and as Wilson says, "When they say you're at the bottom of Newark, you're pretty far down." But there is tremendous hope there as well, hope that Newark and the Bottom are on their way up. Wilson and clean energy are in the thick of an effort to make that a reality.

Wilson is a focused, energetic man who knows how to get things done. He's a person who can pull together a complex project like rebuilding an entire neighborhood with three hundred units of housing and a cultural arts center, and learn green development as he goes.

Like many neglected urban neighborhoods, Lincoln Park has tremendous forgotten history and abandoned assets. Beginning two blocks from City Hall, it is a bridge between the rest of the city and its downtown. It was part of the 1666 footprint of Newark. In the nineteenth century it was one of the more affluent neighborhoods in New Jersey, home to two governors and the founders of Prudential Insurance and Ballantine Beer.

But the area fell victim to the troubles that hit many American inner cities in the 1950s and 1960s. With redlining by banks and urban flight strangling new investment, poverty set in, historic brownstones collapsed, maintenance was deferred, and the neighborhood deteriorated.

While Wilson is green by training and inclination, his passion is also for people. He has come to clean energy not only to do the right thing for the planet, but as a strategy for social justice. "Coming out of a poor community, the environment wasn't part of the central conversation on poverty," he says. When energy and the environment came up, it was about siting hazardous land uses and Superfund sites near poor, black, and vulnerable populations. Those are important issues, but not part of the inspirational solution he wanted to build. Recently, however, his passion for energy and environmental issues has been rekindled by the opportunities he sees as a nonprofit developer to build a green workforce, create homeownership and affordability, and provide new cleanair solutions.

Wilson is redeveloping Lincoln Park. He has assembled an eleven-acre site in the center of the downtown and is preparing to build three hundred units of new housing surrounding a new Museum of African American Music. The project uses culture and history as a centerpiece of the renaissance of the community. And Wilson has decided that he wants the museum to be the greenest building in the state of New Jersey, a testament to sustainability. He and his colleagues felt that in Newark the decline had been so deep that anything new had to be at the cutting edge, to leapfrog over current practices. Green building aligns their project with the future.

They plan to make the museum a teaching tool, first educating the community on its history and culture and then opening a window to green issues, materials, and industries. "You can get them into the room with hip-hop and DJ and house music and educate them on other issues like energy by letting the building itself speak. It creates a new way for them to listen." As the project grew, the ideas expanded and became more ambitious. With three hundred units, the opportunity to make a difference was too great. Now they are making all the housing units high-performance buildings, registered as meeting the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Standard. They are building in solar panels to cut long-term energy costs. They have launched a partnership with the New Jersey chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council to develop new design standards to meet the needs of multi-unit dwellings, pushing the envelope to be more inclusive of mixed-use and urban homes. They are helping to write the rules on how urban areas go green.

As Wilson says, "At the end of the day, this is what we should all be doing in the city." There is a moral commitment to the green dimensions of the project, because this effort will invest $170 million in a neighborhood desperately in need of capital improvement. This scale of development by definition will have an environmental impact on the community, and he wants to make sure it is a good one. He is pulling out all the stops on rethinking materials by using green roofs; pervious paving to allow rainwater to pass through the surface; bamboo flooring that grows in a season, whereas other wood takes years; wheat-board cabinetry that is both nontoxic and easily grown; and low-flow bathroom fixtures that greatly increase both energy and water conservation. Wilson and his colleagues are in the process of developing strategies to quantify the savings from energy efficiency and the reductions in their greenhouse gas impacts, even exploring how to use carbon credits for urban redevelopment. Ultimately, he hopes to produce zero-energy buildings, with no net energy use, through aggressive implementation of efficiency and renewables. That is a pretty impressive goal for a mixed-income urban redevelopment project with substantial amounts of affordable housing. But there is no reason that environmental sensitivity and deep social equity should not go hand in hand.

Wilson makes it clear that public policy has been essential in making this effort possible. When developers build in a greenfield--land never before developed--they have none of the cleanup costs that urban developers have. An urban site's costs, however, are borne as extra overhead costs by the developer, even though the benefits to the community and the state are great from reusing existing high-quality infrastructure for smart growth. It is appropriate that public policy helps development move from sprawl back to investing in the urban core. In Lincoln Park, for example, the developers were able to tap federal and state brownfield assistance for cleanup of contaminated groundwater from leaking underground storage tanks.

In turning brownfields to green buildings, access to public resources has been critical. As leaders in the field, Wilson and Lincoln Park are also bringing the trades up the learning curve as contractors master the skills of green construction and programs like YouthBuild train young people in the construction jobs of the future.

It has been a long journey from the project's beginnings in a community charrette in 1999, when residents started to map their destiny, to the acquisition and assembly of thirty lots from the state to make the vision possible. Now they have broken ground, bringing the dream of a new home closer to three hundred families and enriching the community with a new cultural resource.

The best news is that Lincoln Park families get safer streets, homeowners get energy cost savings, and young folks will find new jobs and skills. The community will see the cultural fabric of the neighborhood restored and a stronger legacy created for future generations. Whatever their vantage point, the citizens of Lincoln Park are coming to believe in the promise of a green future for their old neighborhood. Clean, efficient energy and strong communities truly go hand in hand.

Getting the Job Done

When economists have looked at the challenge of solving global warming they have found tremendous opportunity in the task of rebuilding our communities and deploying a raft of new technology from a new generation of automobiles and low carbon biofuels, to retrofitting our cities with high performance green buildings and new renewable energy systems like solar, wind, wave, and geothermal power. The Apollo Alliance estimates that accomplishing this task would generate 3.3 million jobs and add 1.4 trillion dollars to the GDP. Another estimate of the impact of producing 25% of our energy from renewable sources by the University of Tennessee found that we could create over 5 million new jobs. The challenge of global warming is daunting to be sure, and retooling America's economy and rebuilding our communities will not be easy, taking both great vision and a real commitment of resources, but the opportunity at hand is even greater.

Our country is not one to shrink from bold challenges. The last man to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan, described the original Apollo project with justified pride: "It was probably the greatest singular human endeavor, certainly in modern times, maybe in the history of all mankind." The new Apollo Project may be of even greater import. It will create an energy system that allow life to continue on this planet as we know it. Wouldn't that be in the same league?

The Apollo astronauts all shared one indelible memory, one almost divine image, the stunning specacle of the planet Earth suspended alone in the heavens, a warm blue planet amid the emptiness of space. Those who saw the blue home planet through the Plexiglas of an Apollo capsule all came home with a visceral understanding of its uniqueness and the need to keep it healthy. Now we are ready to embark on a new adventure dedicated to caring for the thin tissue of atmosphere embracing that blue orb.

Our belief in our ability to accomplish this feat is intuitive, instinctive, and immediate, but it is grounded in a sober assessment of the stakes and opportunities before us. Just after Kennedy made his pronouncement to Congress that America was going to the moon in ten years, NASA administrator James Webb turned to his assistant Bob Gilruth and asked with Honesty, "Bob, can we do this?" Bob answered without a second's hesitation, "Yes, Absolutely! We have to."

Can we capture Apollo's fire and revolutionize the world of energy?

Yes, absolutely. We have to.

Image credit: flickr/meridianphoto

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Cold fusion offer great hope as a new green energy source. See my page at:

Posted by: frank znidarsic on 30 Nov 07

Cold fusion offer great hope as a new green energy source. See my page at:

Posted by: frank znidarsic on 30 Nov 07

THe fear is not that we we not be able to solve the problem of global warming, but to solve the problem we have to give up our current consumer lifestyle- and most people do not want to do that until it is forced upon them.

Posted by: kaz on 2 Dec 07

It all sounds great.

Posted by: keith anderle on 3 Dec 07

It all sounds great.

Posted by: keith anderle on 3 Dec 07

Dear Friends,

For just a moment, let us consider how to get to the year 2050.........from here and now.

Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the global challenges before humanity, the challenges that we can manage because they have been induced by the spectacular unrestrained overgrowth of human activities now threatening to engulf the surface of Earth.

Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do "ably and differently." There are several ideas that come to mind.

1) Implement a universal, voluntary program that encourages people to limit the number of offspring to one child per family.

2) Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.

3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.

4) Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.

5) Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our planetary home utterly depend on the finite resources of Earth. One consequence of this realization is understanding that there can be no such thing as an endlessly expanding global economy, given its current scale and growth rate, on a relatively small and noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.



Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. on 4 Dec 07


The current scale and rapid growth rate of the global economy cannot be sustained much longer, much less forever, on a planet with the size and make-up of Earth. Many intellectually honest and courageous people possess this knowledge of Earth’s limitations, and are standing up in larger numbers now and speaking out loudly so as to share their understandings with others.

Given the purposes of too many leaders, of course, speaking out in intellectually honest and courageous ways are not examples of human behavior that support these leaders’ pervasively proclaimed view: only we know how to live. Afterall, have you ever heard one of these not-so-great leaders say something like, “Our way of life is non-negotiable. There is no other. It is either our way of life or else…….”?

These leaders hold a monolithic, potentially pernicious view of the way the world works and, consequently, may present themselves in our time as a formidable challenge for humanity. The global challenge presented to humankind by this leadership could be every bit as formidable a global challenge as human-induced global warming.

Here we want to objectively identify an overlooked but primary aspect of the distinctly human-forced predicament that is presented to humanity in these early years of Century XXI. I would like to submit that too many leaders among us, all espousing their insistence upon their one right way to live, present themselves to humanity and to life as we know it as a global challenge.

Through ‘talking heads’ in the media and bought-and-paid-for politicians, super-rich powerbrokers have predominantly established their view about this world and what about it is most important to them. Can they say what they intend more clearly? What more can they say to be better understood? They report their message ubiquitously in the mass media.

These leaders are making themselves crystal clear. They are all about endless economic growth, come what may. For any of them to so much as suggest an alternative to maximal expansion of human consumption, production and propagation activities now threatening to engulf the Earth, would be politically inconvenient, economically inexpedient, socially disagreeable and religiously intolerable.

Nevertheless, it appears worth noting that their “24/7″ message via mass media endorsing unrelenting economic globalization could soon be generally recognized as a scientifically unsupportable fabrication. Their contrived, consensually validated ‘necessity’ for unbridled economic growth could be eventually seen as fraudent as well as an willful exercise of governmental and corporate malfeasence, all of it based upon the selfish interests of a tiny minority of wealthy and powerful people.

These wealth accumulating and power-driven leaders and their not negotiable view of the right way for all human beings to live, I am supposing, will shortly stand out as an ominously looming threat to humanity. One day this threat will be given the attention it deserves. Sometime thereafter, this threat will be acknowledged and addressed in an intellectually honest and courageous way. Then the global threat posed by a small number of people advocating evermore patently unsustainable economic growth, come what may, will be confronted by the family of humanity.

Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

Posted by: stevenearlsalmony on 10 Dec 07

I believe entrepreneurs will turn us green faster than government mandates. has a mission to enable global adoption of renewable energy.
It provides free competitive cost estimates and expert advice to consumers of renewable energy like Solar, Small Wind, Geothermal or Biomass system. It serves both residential and commercial customers across the globe. has a global network of the renewable energy players.

Posted by: on 19 Dec 07



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