By Barbara Kessler

Disturbing reports haunt the news lately, suggesting that the faltering U.S. economy could stall environmental progress or even force a digression on climate change programs.

Two U.S. wind energy companies and several corn ethanol projects have been delayed for lack of financing, The New York Times reported this week in “Alternative Energy Suddenly Faces Headwinds“.

A similarly downbeat piece “Environment will wither whoever wins US election” from The Times in London, notes that “environmental groups are already bracing themselves for delays or disappointment on action to tackle global warming”. The article postulates that post-election political leaders will face opposition to environmental programs from job-starved states in the Rust Belt reliant on coal and other heavy industry. American’s immediate need for cold green cash, it warns, could trump green growth.

If leaders aren’t careful, the thinking goes, short-term bread-and-butter issues will cloud the long view. An America struggling to put food on the table will put green ventures back on the shelf and turn its back on the clean energy hobo at the door.

But as sure as they’re tapping geothermal heat in Utah and wind power in Texas, the countervailing viewpoint is gaining steam.

Environmental Defense head Fred Krupp, among others chirping up at green organizations and on editorial pages, believes that retooling our economy to tackle global warming and oil dependence is not a luxury in hard times, but the way out of hard times.

People “will say that the economic crisis will make it harder to solve the global warming crisis. I say just the opposite is true,” Krupp writes in a recent appeal to supporters.

“If we ignore global warming now, we will squander the opportunity to build a solid foundation for long-term, sustainable economic growth… if we unleash our green energy future, we can grow the economy, create jobs, secure our energy independence and stop global warming at the same time.”

It may sound utopian, but it’s not an isolated train of thought. The green movement can, will and should help re-employ the disenfranchised in America argues Oakland activist Van Jones, whose just-released book The Green Collar Economy, How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems couldn’t be better timed.

Across the ocean, Nicholas Stern,  an economics professor at the London School of Economics, continues the dialogue.  The world should learn from the financial crisis that “high carbon growth — business as usual”  will lead us toward a climate disaster, but that re-tooling for low-carbon growth can lead to economic and environmental recovery, Stern writes today in The Guardian.

During this now-certain recession, governments and private business should lay the foundations for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and protecting biodiversity and our water supplies, Stern writes.

“The coming period of growth can be firmly based in the low-carbon infrastructure and investments that will not only be profitable, with the right policies, but also allow for a safer, cleaner and quieter economy and society. ”

Here’s hoping green visions can carry us through the current sea of red.

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