The seemingly bad as a possible good?

It is a godsend. It is not castor oil that we have to drink. It is in my view, for the United States, the greatest economic opportunity that we’ve had since we mobilized for World War II. And if we do it right, it will produce job gains and income gains substantially greater than those produced in the 1990s when I had the privilege to be president.
— Bill Clinton, from a recent speech about global warming

Could such crazy, cockeyed optimism possibly be justified? Maybe so. If we all start rowing the boat the same way, that is. Which is what he’s talking about, I think.

Worldchanging has more on the speech.

Key points:

  • Persistent inequality is sapping our strength at home and in the world.
  • Identity differences are overshadowing our common humanity, and dragging down everyone involved
  • The problem of a lack of sustainability is even worse than captured in “An Inconvenient Truth” because of two related issues: the diminishing availability of natural resources and population growth.

But here’s the good news: tackling climate change, if we do it right, will help us overcome inequality and divisiveness.

Clinton emphasized cities as enormous opportunities, from better buildings to better transportation, water infrastructure to solid waste, renewable energy and above all, efficiency. If the United States, India, China and Russia were simply to achieve the existing energy efficiency standards of Japan, he noted, we’d reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.

Clinton’s proposal ties in with what The Breakthrough Institute favors, a massive unified effort by government, private industry, and people to solve global warming – encouraged and fostered by making it a positive experience rather than something dire. Clinton told mayors at the speech they could save money and encourage business by going green, a more effective approach than scaring them with gloomy predictions (which can backfire, causing eco-fatigue.)

The mayor of Millwaukee had been skeptical because his city is working class, “where people get their hands dirty for a living,” but then realized that investments in upgrading and weatherizing old homes would increase property values and save people money on heating.

Oakland CA now has a Green Jobs Corp that trains low income people how to install solar, make biofuel, things like that. Real jobs, in other words.

Imagine what could be accomplished if the entire country (or world) started working together on this.


  1. I think the most important role such a proposal can play is to increase the awareness and urgency of people’s THINKING about global warming in their daily lives. For example, my wife and I discovered we could cut our household emissions by 70% just by implementing basic conservation measures, without any painful lifestyle changes. The 1/2 Project explains the efforts of another household, which cut its emissions by 50%– and will save the cost of its projects in two years. So far, I have yet to hear of anyone willing to make the effort who couldn’t cut their household emissions by at least 50% with NO lifestyle changes– with the exception of travel emissions for those who spend their lives on the road (or in the air).

    According to one source, 46% of our CO2 emissions come from electricity and heat usage. Cutting that by 50% would reduce the total by almost 1/4! Cutting transportation emissions through higher mileage vehicles, smarter driving, using mass transit when practical (for those who have it), and buying local would reduce the total even more– all without a single new technology or law. These are things WE– every one of us– can do now. Over 25% reduction! Not to mention it would save each of us a lot of money.

    There are plenty of other opportunities to reduce. Zero emissions WILL require new technologies and government intervention. But I’m continually confounded that we complain while failing to do what’s already available– and without convincing our friends and neighbors to do likewise. No wonder people look to government to force us to change– we seem to be unwilling to make the effort on our own.

  2. Clinton has the right tone, even if he does not always have the right policy agenda. That is why his views will more likely prevail.

    I would second Nordhaus and Shellenbergers assessment of the environmental movement and their use of apocalypse scenarios to scare us all to death. The reaction to all of this is often the exact opposite of what you would want to happen: denial, resource hording, etc.

    It amazes me that most environmental groups and global warming policy wonks have failed to pick up on the work of Architecture 2030. ( Were we to follow their plan, one the requires local actions in every community, we would begin to regain control over our future. As long as we focus on just the supply side of the energy equation and better methods of producing energy, we give everyone an excuse to do nothing.

  3. It’s an ironic failure of capitalism: saving energy saves money. Conservation should be a no-brainer. But we’ve reached a point in our U.S. economy where time is more valuable than money, and people can’t be bothered to make the effort.

    Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s unsustainable long-term in a world where labor exceeds resources.

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