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Takin' Care of Business, Copenhagen Style
Joe Romm, 10 Dec 09

by Bracken Hendricks

A dispatch from the Denmark conference

4171305903_803dcdcb54.jpg If you listened to my friends over at Fox news and the Heritage Foundation, you might be forgiven for thinking that the polyglot conference going on this week in Denmark was a conspiracy of commie sympathizers and faceless bureaucrats hell bent on taking down the global economy – or at least that part of it located in the continental USA. Well, I’m sorry to report that the view from street level is a little bit different.

Here in no particular order are just a few of the conversations that I had the privilege of witnessing today in some of the quieter corners of the cavernous Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark where COP 15 is unfolding in real time. These economic prognostications are not my own, but they came from some of the most reliable people on the planet for navigating a path to a low carbon economy.

A senior executive from a global automobile manufacturer (BMW) opined about the need to include automobile emissions when regulating carbon emission. He wanted this so his company could have a clear shot at navigating the path from oil dependence to a future of cruising in electric cars. Incidentally, on this point, the European conceded that his American cousins had gotten it right by proposing to fold transportation fuels into an economy wide cap. Further, he saw fuel economy standards as well as the bold step taken by California and the US EPA to count the carbon coming out of tail pipes equally with power plants, as being useful tools for keeping the beleaguered auto industry on a path of innovation.

Just on the other side of that same room, a senior executive from northern Europe’s largest utility flippantly mentioned that his firm (Vattenfall AB) was working from a business plan that had them producing 100% zero-carbon energy by 2050. Was he worried he wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on for the 4.7 million retail customers he supplies in Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the UK? Not a chance. The combination of an aggressive push on renewable energy – particularly wind – and a long term play on advanced carbon capture for coal plants has helped him sleep well at night. On regulating carbon emissions though, he did concede that European utilities were nervous at first, but in the end he shrugged, you get used to it and you get on with business – only with more confidence in your product.

At a later point in the day, a member of the leadership team from the largest utility company in the USA (American Electric Power), mentioned almost as a badge of honor that his Ohio based power provider – with fully 40 thousand Mega Watts of mostly coal based electric power under management – supported the bipartisan Waxman-Markey climate and clean energy bill in the US House of Representatives. This was an aside however, in a round table discussion focused chiefly on how the United States could take a page from the energy sector in other nations, and pull ahead in the global race for renewable energy — a race that has produced 30 to 50% growth rates in the solar market, and over 28% growth for heavy manufacturing in the wind industry, as noted by the CEO’s of some of these very same global competitors. Not bad for an economic downturn!

So it is with some trepidation that I must disappoint those nay-sayers who assert that American ingenuity isn’t quite up to the challenge of beating back global warming with a mix of strategic investment and old-fashioned roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work American optimism. Copenhagen is turning out to be the temporary capital of market-correcting capitalists, dynamic new economy entrepreneurs, and innovation seeking industrialists, but so far there’s not a commie in sight. And, incidentally all the bureaucrats I met have faces. But then again, there’s always tomorrow – by then who knows how big the renewable energy industry will have gotten.

This piece originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Image Credit: Greenpeace Finland via Flickr, Creative Commons License

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