The Power of Green

“Whatever you are making, if you can add a green dimension to it — making it more efficient, healthier and more sustainable for future generations — you have a product that can’t just be made cheaper in India or China,” said Andrew Shapiro, founder of GreenOrder, an environmental business-strategy group. “If you just create a green ghetto in your company, you miss it. You have to figure out how to integrate green into the DNA of your whole business.”

Ditto for our country, which is why we need a Green New Deal — one in which government’s role is not funding projects, as in the original New Deal, but seeding basic research, providing loan guarantees where needed and setting standards, taxes and incentives that will spawn 1,000 G.E. Transportations for all kinds of clean power.

Bush won’t lead a Green New Deal, but his successor must if America is going to maintain its leadership and living standard. Unfortunately, today’s presidential hopefuls are largely full of hot air on the climate-energy issue. Not one of them is proposing anything hard, like a carbon or gasoline tax, and if you think we can deal with these huge problems without asking the American people to do anything hard, you’re a fool or a fraud.

Being serious starts with reframing the whole issue — helping Americans understand, as the Carnegie Fellow David Rothkopf puts it, “that we’re not ‘post-Cold War’ anymore — we’re pre-something totally new.” I’d say we’re in the “pre-climate war era.” Unless we create a more carbon-free world, we will not preserve the free world. Intensifying climate change, energy wars and petroauthoritarianism will curtail our life choices and our children’s opportunities every bit as much as Communism once did for half the planet.

Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values. And, finally, it’s about making America the global environmental leader, instead of laggard, which as Schwarzenegger argues would “create a very powerful side product.” Those who dislike America because of Iraq, he explained, would at least be able to say, “Well, I don’t like them for the war, but I do like them because they show such unbelievable leadership — not just with their blue jeans and hamburgers but with the environment. People will love us for that. That’s not existing right now.”

In sum, as John Hennessy, the president of Stanford, taught me: Confronting this climate-energy issue is the epitome of what John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause, once described as “a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”

Am I optimistic? I want to be. But I am also old-fashioned. I don’t believe the world will effectively address the climate-energy challenge without America, its president, its government, its industry, its markets and its people all leading the parade. Green has to become part of America’s DNA. We’re getting there. Green has hit Main Street — it’s now more than a hobby — but it’s still less than a new way of life.

Why? Because big transformations — women’s suffrage, for instance — usually happen when a lot of aggrieved people take to the streets, the politicians react and laws get changed. But the climate-energy debate is more muted and slow-moving. Why? Because the people who will be most harmed by the climate-energy crisis haven’t been born yet.

“This issue doesn’t pit haves versus have-nots,” notes the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, “but the present versus the future — today’s generation versus its kids and unborn grandchildren.” Once the Geo-Green interest group comes of age, especially if it is after another 9/11 or Katrina, Mandelbaum said, “it will be the biggest interest group in history — but by then it could be too late.”

An unusual situation like this calls for the ethic of stewardship. Stewardship is what parents do for their kids: think about the long term, so they can have a better future. It is much easier to get families to do that than whole societies, but that is our challenge. In many ways, our parents rose to such a challenge in World War II — when an entire generation mobilized to preserve our way of life. That is why they were called the Greatest Generation. Our kids will only call us the Greatest Generation if we rise to our challenge and become the Greenest Generation.

By: Thomas Friedman, The New York Times