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Bruce Katz to Cleveland: Clean economy is mission critical

Marc Lefkowitz  |  11/07/11 @ 9:31am

With a void of leadership from Washington, can cities lead America back to greatness while conquering the single most pressing issue of our day (climate change)? That's the premise behind Bruce Katz and Strobe Talbott's "Sizing the Clean Economy: A national and regional green jobs assessment." The two top minds at the nation's premier progressive think tank, Brookings Institution, delivered a rousing call to (green) arms in Cleveland last Friday.

"We're the first generation to know that we're living in the age of climate change, and we are the last to be able to do something about it," said Talbott, Brookings president and deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration. "We're at a turning point. The twenty-first century is already shaping up to be either the best or the worst in humanity."

Talbott outlined the challenge-we must reduce man made carbon emissions from their current 30 gigatons of CO2 a year to 15. "And we don't have a lot of time to do it."

Thankfully, Katz said, cities are already grappling with the national policy void (although he said the task would be infinitely easier with a federal renewable portfolio standard mandating at least 25% of power in the nation produced domestically with wind, solar, geothermal and other advanced energy). Katz is also in favor of a carbon tax. But what he's really bullish about is the spark of entrepreneurialism in cities.

"We must build the clean economy by unleashing the innovation of America's metro areas," he said. "Rather than getting out of the way, government must get in the game."

Great examples of public-private partnerships in the clean economy are happening in cities like Philly, Milwaukee and Portland ? and Cleveland, said Katz who drew on data from his most recent report that looked at 32 segments of green industry. The clean economy is critical for the recovery of manufacturing centers like Cleveland because two-thirds of the jobs involve making things.

"The clean economy is twice as export intensive," Katz said. "Forty-five percent of the jobs are held by those with a high school diploma or less. The median wage is $44,000 which is higher than the national average of $38,000. This is really critical for Cleveland."

Northeast Ohio economic development organization, Nortech's extensive study of the advanced energy cluster (600 businesses have some connection to the wind, solar, fuel cell and advanced energy supply chain) is a national model, Katz said, for measuring and supporting the clean energy industry. They include GE Lighting in East Cleveland, Graftech in Lakewood, which has "shifted from graphite products for autos to almost exclusively making components for solar thermal" and Rotek which is a major wind turbine parts supplier to Germany.

"There's a myth that we should give up making things in this country," Katz said. "But when you give up manufacturing you're ceding innovation. In a perfect world, we would have the federal government lead the innovation."

Cities are helping industry clusters which in turn are boosting metro growth, Katz said. In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania is leading the charge to redevelop an old navy yard into a clean energy incubator. Milwaukee has established a Water Council that is driving innovative tech and new business creation around clean water. Connecticut established a 'Green Bank', New York City set up its Energy Efficiency Fund, and Seattle has its Metro Business Plan -all to catalyze development of clean energy start ups.

"it's not that hard to imagine what a national road map for clean energy looks like," Katz said, "look to Germany. It's only a matter of, can our federal government muster the will to get anything done? Our fall back is to build the clean economy from the ground up. In states like California which have set a goal of 30% clean energy by 2030."

"We need to imagine a world in 20 years where clean energy permeates all levels of our economy and deals with the existential crisis of climate change. It will power tens of thousands of consumers. We can set up a road map for this innovation, metro by metro."

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