Former President Bill Clinton capped the fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, sponsored by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), with Clintonian observations on the state of greentech.
“Though the news from Washington, D.C. may be disheartening, the news from the rest of the county is not so bad,” the former President began.
He talked about his foundation’s efforts to bring renewable energy and energy efficiency to emerging and developing economies around the world. “Lower income countries that choose sustainable paths do better economically,” he said. Because such efforts require public-private partnerships, he added, quoting Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson’s newest book, “The great winners of the world are the cooperators.”
Renewable energy is vital, President Clinton said. But “it always begins with efficiency,” because that is where the biggest jobs benefit is.
“A billion dollars invested in a coal plant generates 870 jobs,” he explained. “The same billion dollars used to build wind can generate 3,300 jobs. But a billion dollars invested in building retrofits,” he said, “creates 7,800 jobs.”
To drive the growth of efficiency and distributed generation, Mr. Clinton insisted, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) should get out of the way of property-assessed clean energy (PACE) programs that allow repayment for such work through homeowners’ property tax assessments.
Turning to the subject of renewable energy, the former president recounted his visit the day before to the nearby BrightSource Energy Ivanpahsolarpower plant on federal land in the Mojave Desert near the Nevada-California border.
He noticed, he said, that many of the DOE-insured, 370-megawatt project’s all-union, multiracial, multiethnic, male and female construction crew were both enthusiastic about renewable energy -- and visibly tattooed.
“The more people with visible tattoos who advocate for clean energy,” President Clinton said, “the more success it will have in Washington.” And, he added, “You win the tattooed vote and we’ll have the damnedest environmental policy anybody ever saw.”
Turning next to climate change, he described a recent scene in a congressional hearing room when the now internationally famous University of California climate scientist Richard Muller reported the results of his Koch Brothers-funded climate research. When Professor Muller, a former denier, told the Congressional committee he is now convinced climate change is real and humans are causing it, Clinton said, both Democrats and Republicans were so astonished that neither side could muster a reaction and the room fell silent.
“We are," Mr. Clinton said, "at the 327th month in a row where the average temperature was above the 20th-century average. You will soon be able to take a boat across the North Pole in the summer.”
For everybody who is not a climate scientist, he added, “We need a bias for action, a bias for cooperation and a bias for big thinking [because] the power of example changes consciousness.”
Action can be successful, he said, because “every independent scientific study says the U.S. is [ranked] one or two in wind and solar potential” and the technology is available. “So many of the world's problems have been solved by somebody, somewhere,” he explained. “We're just not very good at replication.”
Today’s charged political atmosphere of attack and counterattack, Mr. Clinton said, discourages action. “We need to slowly rebuild an American community” by remembering, he explained, that “nobody is right all the time, but a broken clock is right twice a day, and all of us live between those extremes.”
The private sector can do a lot, the former President suggested, but “corporations must remember that their responsibility is not only to their stockholders but to their customers and their communities, too,” he said.
Improved cooperation can evolve from public-private partnerships, he explained, and the simplistic formulation of getting government out of the way is not the entire answer.
The founding fathers, he added, worked hard to create a system that made citizens stakeholders in government. “We are going to have to become a stakeholder society again,” President Clinton said. “It is the only thing that works.”