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Aug 192009

By Ashley Phillips
Green Right Now

Last week, President William J. Clinton made a stop in Chicago to address the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment at its annual Climate Leadership Summit. Since leaving office, President Clinton has spent his time focusing on issues that, to him, make a difference. One that the former president has chosen to tackle is the environment, and in his opinion, the economy and the environment go hand in hand.

In his view, the future is green and in relation to the economy, green is gold. Count him among those who believe we can best increase economic activity by investing in the new emerging energy economy.

President Clinton acknowledges that in a time of great economic uncertainty, it is hard to put up the investment when the savings are not immediate, but realized over time. Yet according to President Clinton, environmental change has the potential to not only make for a better planet, it will greatly stimulate the economy.

“Lester Brown (founder of the Worldwatch Institute, which is devoted to the analysis of global environmental issues) says if you invest a billion dollars in a coal fire plant you get 870 jobs” Clinton said. “If you invest a billion dollars in solar power (depending on which type) you get 1,800-1,900 jobs.  If you invest a billion dollars in wind power, if you actually manufacture and assemble the windmills in the jurisdiction where they are put up, you get 3,300 jobs.  If you invest a billion dollars in energy efficiency you get 6,000 jobs.”

Those are compelling estimates at a time when America has lost 6.7 million jobs in the recession.

“This is the cheapest, surest, most certain way to generate the increased employment we need, that will also spread confidence throughout the economy and get hiring going again in every sector,” Clinton said. “I do not believe there is another option available for the United States at this time that would do more in less time to generate the jobs we need.

“We have to demonstrate how to do this in a way that actually has a transformational impact on our economy and the global economy, and a way that generates more broadly based prosperity as well as saves the planet for our children and grandchildren,” said Clinton.

As a solution to the financing road block, he explained the idea of “decoupling,” which means “a utility company does not have to sell more electricity to charge more, so instead can finance efficiency and then split the savings with the homeowner, the business owner or the building owner.”

California has been using this system for a while now.  Which is why “the average Californian uses 55 percent as much energy per year, as the average American,” according to President Clinton.

The Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) is involved in many projects in cities around the world. Recently, the organization worked with Johnston Controls on an energy efficiency design for New York City’s Empire State Building. The project, self-financed, will cost $33 million and reduce greenhouse gases by 38 percent. It is projected to save $4.5 million per year in utility bills and be completely paid off in only 7.5 years.

“It will have the equivalent effect of that one building taking 19,000 cars off the road, so we are hoping that it gets other New York buildings to get into this more rapidly,” said Clinton.

The CCI also is in the beginning stages of a project that will make the entire island of Puerto Rico completely self-sufficient.

Clinton’s Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., was the first federal building to receive a Platinum Level LEED Certification. So he is currently urging the federal government to upgrade all its buildings, and to require that each new structure meets LEED standards.

President Clinton also is passionate about the problem of deforestation, calling it “18 percent of the global problem.” While Brazil is facing great challenges in relation to deforestation due to cattle ranching, other poorer countries are burning down forests for other reasons: to live. Clinton believes that in most places, people burn down trees to be able to cook dinner, using Haiti as an example. In these countries, he said, the incentive to burn down the trees must be removed. In Haiti they have developed a product made of saw dust and wet paper, which sells for a penny each. It burns as effectively as coal, but for one fifth of the cost.

Decisions are being made that affect all of us, he warns. While you may not be able to solve the crisis of global warming or even get a vote in Congress, every little bit makes a difference.

“All I know is, if you do a million little things, you have done a very big thing,” Clinton said. So perhaps, all we can do is just try our best, one little thing at a time, he urged. The state of our environment is no longer an issue for the future; it is an issue for today. We cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them. It is time for a change.

In a powerful closing, President Clinton said simply: “I would like to do more, and I hope that you will help.”

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