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Focusing on climate change solutions

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/21/08 @ 1:43pm

Ideas that will transform a "pollution-based" to a sustainable economy are the providence of new leaders such as Sadhu Johnston, Van Jones and the sustainable entrepreneurs found in "Earth: The Sequel", a New York Times Bestseller penned by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn. They all shared a vision for the future at last Friday's climate change solutions symposium at Oberlin College.

The national dialogue is now balanced between urgency and excitement because "we're no longer debating climate change; we're talking about solutions," Bruce Latimer, executive director, Cleveland Museum of Natural History noted in his welcoming remarks.

Indeed, some of the best and brightest solutions are on the rise in Chicago where Johnston, chief environmental officer and Mayor Daley's deputy chief of staff, is impressively reshaping a 20th century industrial city into "one where you don't have to leave to find nature." It's a bold vision backed by a long list of sustainability programs: At least a dozen LEED-certified green buildings including high-rises and public housing, alleys replaced with permeable pavers, a green roofs grant program, green retrofits for its historic bungalows, a local wind turbine project, a green jobs training center and on.

Unlike some cities that signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and then stalled, Chicago released a plan based on calculating its carbon footprint and establishing transition scenarios. Chicago's plan is a roadmap for government operations and investments with goals such as a more livable city and targets to reduce their carbon footprint to 12 metric tonnes per capita annually.

Chicago's sustainability plan is a model for industrial cities like Cleveland and Oakland where visionaries and new leaders are also working on transition scenarios. In Oakland, Van Jones founded Green for All, an organization that is training low income inner-city residents for "green collar jobs" such as home weatherization, wiring solar panels or planting urban gardens.

More than asking 'what if' Jones is creating green pathways out of poverty. He worked with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get a green jobs act passed in the 2007 energy bill that, if it doesn't get cut during the appropriations process, will generate block grants to train 30,000 people nationwide.

Improving lives is what keeps Jones grounded. "People needed to hear not how much we knew (about pollution and green solutions). Until they knew how much we cared about them?the reception was often chilly. We can say, 'we're going to bring health to our community' or we could say 'we're going to take that asthma inhaler out of your daughter's pocket with this green stuff.'

"It's not just about reclaiming thrown away stuff, it's about reclaiming thrown away lives," he continues. "When you give hope and opportunity to people, you have a real movement." "Earth: The Sequel" describes how climate solutions are being powered by human invention and a profit motive. It features many stories of sustainable entrepreneurs, such as Conrad Burke, whose company Innovalight makes nanosilicon to improve the performance of solar panels while reducing their cost by a factor of ten. And Amyris Biotechnologies, which re-engineered common yeast into a low-cost medication that halts malaria and is turning its attention to a yeast-to-biofuels process.

Krupp and keynote speaker, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, emphasized the importance of federal and state policy ? including the extension of federal production tax credits for renewable energy R&D, which was approved by a Senate subcommittee last week and could be heading for debate in the full Senate soon, and a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)- to help Ohio's sustainable entrepreneurs thrive and grow.

"This is a state that is reinventing itself," said Fisher, while pointing to Gov. Strickland's $1.57 billion jobs plan which includes a $150 million carve out to "help advanced energy companies grow and create green collar jobs of the future in biofuels, solar, energy conservation and efficiency."

The Strickland Administration is making policy decisions that will reduce energy consumption, Fisher says, including its 'fix-it-first' infrastructure policy, which he says will help curb urban sprawl, and a Green Schools Initiative. With the state committing to LEED certify all new school buildings, Fisher estimates a $20 billion energy savings over 10 years. The $400 million Clean Ohio Fund leveraged more than $2 billion in additional investments, he said, adding that the fund needs to be renewed this fall when it will be placed on (the November) ballot.

Because of our manufacturing infrastructure and skilled workforce, Ohio ranks 2nd in potential for renewable energy jobs, Fisher says, citing a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Project.

An RPS will be like firing a starter's pistol for the renewable energy economy here, said Krupp, who is also president of Environmental Defense Fund.

Even though Ohio's RPS is "being held hostage" to other issues in the Ohio Senate's energy bill, some local companies in the wind and solar power supply chain are anticipating its passage and have recently started investing millions of dollars in new equipment, says Richard Stuebi, BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at the Cleveland Foundation.

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