Green time has arrived

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Eye from Albany
September 2006

Green time has arrived
by Paul M. Bray

It seems like only yesterday or perhaps a year to two ago that the buzz was about the death of environmentalism. Environmentalism was being called just another special interest and in some ways it did appear that environmental concerns had hit a wall.

Let me suggest that government led by Democrats, Republicans or anyone else is all about taxing and spending. Using the tax and spend liberal epithet is nothing more than a cover for serious discourse on the true nature of the spending being made and who is going to pay the bill whether it is through a progressive income tax or regressive sales and property taxes.

Now everywhere I turn, ecological concern is back in vogue and green politics are alive again. Magazine cover stories are only one sign of the green reawakening.

Check it out. An article in Forbes Magazine, for example, asks if General Electric, still dragging its feet over PCB clean up of the Hudson River, has “gone eco-mad”. Its CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, is pushing windmills, water filters and cleaner turbines. GE’s website is a symphony in green.

Green is also gaining prominence in the popular mainstream media. Al Gore and David Attenborough were feted by the British film and TV industry for bringing the global warming debate to millions of viewers. Gore was also spotlighted on the MTV awards. Brazil’s largest TV network is filming a soap opera set in the Amazon with the intent of stirring global debate on the fate of the world’s biggest rainforest.

Thomas Friedman from the New York Times is writing “green” in his foreign affairs columns. His message is that American security is clearly on the line if we do not stop our addictive dependence on foreign oil. Because of the transfer of our funds to the Middle East through the high cost of foreign oil, we are effectively financing both sides of the “war on terrorism”. Tom is telling us to go green for our safety.

Priority is increasingly being given by government and the private sector to clean energy, green buildings and green procurement and products including, of all places, at Wall-marts.

After Seattle Mayor Greg Nichols launched the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, 275 mayors representing 48 million Americans made the promise to cut their heat-trapping emissions 7% from 1990 levels by 2012.

Development patterns are also changing with a growing premium for walkable communities and mixed-use development where one can walk to work and to the food market to buy “locally produced food”.

Am I wrong to think this has snuck up on us? It has been thirty plus years since Earth Day and environment had a hard time getting beyond step-child status. Needless to say the current Bush administration has been anti-environment since the beginning when President Bush declared he had no use for the Kyoto climate controls. It isn’t national leadership that is taking us to a green world.

So, why the change? Could it be the Katrina effect and greater frequency of other extreme weather events like floods and melting glaciers as government appears helpless to protect us from the consequences? Iraq and soaring gasoline prices vividly make the folly of our oil dependency evident every day in the news and at the gas pump. Or, are we becoming more aware of the looming impact of China, now the second largest emitter of CO2 and fastest growing producer with green house gasses rising at 20.76% in 2004?

Maybe the environmental education students received in the 1970s is finally paying off. Environmentalism has now been around along enough to have gained public acceptance.

Leaders of global corporations have been aware for years that it was only a matter of time before they would have to adjust to demands for green products and sustainability. Many have been planning for the new world with contingent sustainability plans for their businesses. Now, high costs of the fossil fuel economy, supply disruptions and government regulation are amongst the reasons businesses want are going to the head of the green parade.

Government leaders have been the slowest to catch on. They rarely are forward looking and usually have enough trouble responding effectively to yesterday’s challenges. To many so called leaders have felt the pain of going green did not seemed to justify the gain.

Now the train has left the station when it comes to green shaping the world around us.

Take California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which just sailed through the state assembly with the full backing of Governor Arnold, as an example. Simply stated, California, the world’s 8th largest economy, is on track to forcing its leading industries-electricity generators; refineries, cement kilns and the like-to reduce emissions of green house gasses to 1990 levels by 2020. This will be a decline of about 25% in emissions.

Yes, the business lobby is predicting economic disaster in California, but the way has been found to establish an incentive to pay a higher price for gasoline and electricity from clean plant and thereby to spread the pain evenly. As was the case in the past when California adopted tough environmental laws, in all likelihood there will not be an exodus of companies fleeing the state. In fact, a University of California, Berkeley report projects that the Act will spur development of alternative energy sources and efficiency gains, expanding the economy and creating about 90,000 jobs.

We will soon find out whether the new state administration taking office in 2007 will make the change to shaping a system green economy in New York. If so, the state will have to do more than police environmental rules. That was yesterday’s environmental solution. The time has arrived to advance the environment from an after thought to being the defining factor. Every sector of the state’s economy and especially the state’s land use policies will need to be put under the green microscope if the state is to be economically competitive in the decades to come.

Our future prosperity and health depends on being green.

Paul M. Bray is President of P.M.Bray LLC, a planning and environmental law firm in Albany, New York. His e-mail is pmbray@aol.com.