Oregon's Bright Green Future

Leslie Carlson

One of my favorite trends of the past few years has been the growing interest of the technology sector in producing energy, goods and materials that are environmentally-friendly.

I personally love this trend because could actually help us “environmental types” shed our granola-munching, compost-turning, hemp-wearing image. This is good, old-fashioned American innovation blended with high-finance and big business, and all of it a shade of green. And nothing could help turn previously uninterested Americans into “green” types like the capacity of this new technology to grow the economy.

Here’s how Wired Magazine put it last May:

With climate change hard upon us, a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism's concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. Technology can be a font of endlessly creative solutions. Business can be a vehicle for change. Prosperity can help us build the kind of world we want. Scientific exploration, innovative design, and cultural evolution are the most powerful tools we have. Entrepreneurial zeal and market forces, guided by sustainable policies, can propel the world into a bright green future.

Nowhere is that bright green future hotter right now than in the renewable energy sector. Billions of dollars in venture capital are flowing into “cleantech,” which includes renewable energy. Many cities, companies and states are trying to boost their consumption of renewable energy by setting standards for the amount of renewable energy they consume—the City of Portland has one, as do Washington and California. Wal-Mart even wants its stores to be run on 100 percent renewable energy. Wind energy companies, solar cell manufacturers and others are jumping in to fill the need. It’s clear on all sides that those in the public and private sectors who get the technology, price and distribution systems right will reap the benefits of their investments.


That’s why I’m so glad to see Governor Ted Kulongoski pushing for renewable energy standards and investments in technology that can help propel Oregon to the forefront of this industry. We’ve got a lot of advantages as a state when it comes to renewable energy: enough wave energy to power Oregon’s needs (and maybe more), eastern and southern climates that generate have the capacity to generate a lot of solar energy, an agricultural base that could grow crops for biofuel and geothermal energy underneath the surface of the earth.

Maybe more importantly, Oregon has a reputation for doing business in an environmentally friendly way, a legacy of the work of Tom McCall and others in the 1970s as well as some of the eco-pioneers of today.

Governor Kulongoski is taking a good step in investing $30 million in renewable energy because he knows it’s no longer a trade-off between our economy and our environment. Or, as the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt recently said in 2005:

“It’s no longer a zero-sum game. Things that are good for the environment are also good for business.”



Comments

  • Bert (unverified)
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    And nothing could help turn previously uninterested Americans into “green” types like the capacity of this new technology to grow the economy.

    Calls to "grow" the economy with green technologies should be viewed with a lot of skepticism. New energy sources and efficiency are needed, but only if accompanied by a decrease in the TOTAL materials economy. Somehow, I don't think Walmart or other big businesses will take us there without some serious and directed prodding by government.

    Also, please don't diss and marginalize those "granola-munching, compost-turning, hemp-wearing" greens.

    I can take a joke, but it's now a tired and divisive refrain to make fun of them. Those guys might not conform to "old-fashioned American innovation blended with high-finance and big business," but the earnest conservationists among them are really on the right track.

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    iAlso, please don't diss and marginalize those "granola-munching, compost-turning, hemp-wearing" greens.

    Apologies if I offended, Bert. The comment was actually self-referential (and written with more than a hint of irony), since I consider myself one of those granola types.

  • Patrick Kennedy (unverified)
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    It is a great trend. Unfortunately it is still true that a lot of utilities are looking to build new coal plants or are refusing to modernize old ones. It will probably take putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions either through a energy tax or through a cap & trade system to really move the economics in the direction of renewables and other cleaner technologies. A cap & trade system, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is where government gives companies a fixed number of pollution allowances. Companies that can stay below their allowed emissions can sell their allowances to those companies that cannot. The European Union is using this approach to meet their Kyoto targets. California is looking at the cap & trade approach in implementing their new global warming legislation. Putting a price on greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels will also spur other benefits like greater efficiency and more research to find alternative, and cleaner, technologies.

  • Jeremy Rogers (unverified)
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    Hope that folks saw/heard/read about the Oregon Leadership Summit last Thursday, where Business Leaders discussed Oregon's opportunities in clean energy, green building, sustainable forestry and ag, and manufacturing.

    Read more about the Summit and the adoption of sustainable development in the Oregon Business Plan at www.oregonbusinessplan.org.

  • Mike Austin (unverified)
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    As Barry Commoner, among others, has pointed out, many of our current environmental problems are the direct result of applying techno-fixes to what are essentially social and political problems. Technology causes as many problems as it fixes. Acid rain is a perfect example. Or, just ask anyone whose ground water has been polluted by chip fabrication plants. Also, granola-crunchers everywhere are owed our deepest gratitude, not the sneering put-downs to which they've been subjected. These people, and I include a former version of myself among them (version 2.3.1.6 to be precise), have largely been proved right, and they have steadfastly bucked the conventional wisdom in order to bring the truth to the population at large.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Bert is on target. Technology can be helpful only if we come to realize, as a society, that growth, as we have come to know it, is no longer possible without causing a disastrous crash in the future. Not too long from now, we will be lucky to be able to live like hardcore granolas [hold the patchouli, please].

    Use less. Then use even less. Show others how it's done.

  • (Show?)

    The only thing I really disliked about the Wired excerpt you quote is this:

    a new green movement is taking shape, one that embraces environmentalism's concerns but rejects its worn-out answers. My emphasis added.

    Renewable energy is environmentalism's answer and has been since the 1970s. Environmentalists have been buiding environmentally sound businesses all along. It's environmental leadership that's creating the political will and regulations that are fueling much of the renewable energy boom. Wired should celebrate that, without knocking the people who've been working for this all along by suggesting they're worn-out.

    Here in Oregon, the Legislature has an opportunity to move forward on both renewable energy in the generation of electricity, and in promoting alternative fuels for transportation.

    You can read more at: www.oregonpriorities.org

  • edison (unverified)
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    "Technology can be helpful only if we come to realize, as a society, that growth, as we have come to know it, is no longer possible without causing a disastrous crash in the future. Not too long from now, we will be lucky to be able to live like hardcore granolas [hold the patchouli, please]." Tom's point is all about that magic word: 'sustainability'. We can no longer kid ourselves; sustaining anything at all like what we currently enjoy isn't possible. So what will Oregon look like in the future?

  • TR (unverified)
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    The word “green” can also be used to scam the public. Take for example promoting alternative motor fuels, specifically ethanol produced from corn. It takes a gallon of fuel to such as gasoline or diesel to produce a gallon of ethanol from corn. Since ethanol is corrosive, it can not be transported through a pipeline thereby adding more trucks to the road and more flammable liquids being transported by train. Because of ethanol's corrosive nature, ethanol reduces engine life thereby increasing consumer and business replacement costs. Using ethanol compared to gasoline in most motor vehicle engines reduces the miles per gallon by five to fifteen percent. Should the legislature decide to subsidize ethanol production, it would be using tax dollars that could be better used elsewhere. Biodiesel for example does not have all the same negatives ethanol does. The bottom line: forcing consumers to use ethanol and hiding the true costs and fallacies behind the word “green” is flimflamming the public.

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    Technology can be helpful only if we come to realize, as a society, that growth, as we have come to know it, is no longer possible without causing a disastrous crash in the future. Not too long from now, we will be lucky to be able to live like hardcore granolas [hold the patchouli, please].

    Use less. Then use even less. Show others how it's done.

    While I completely agree with this statement--clearly, we cannot continue to use the natural resources of this planet to the same extent we do now without risking environmental collapse, war, famine and drought--I am skeptical that the average American will respond to the argument that it's time to conserve and use less without some sort of future crisis.

    Will people en masse stop driving their cars in favor of buses and bikes simply because someone tells them to? Not likely, unless we have severe oil shocks. Will people stop heating their homes or turn their thermostats down to 60 degrees? The lessons of the 70s show that this is not likely either in the absence of home heating fuel price increases.

    What they will respond to, however, it cool new technology that is environmentally-friendly and efficient: hybrid cars, plug-in hybrids, solar panels, etc. By weaning them from old technology and onto new, efficient ones, we might be able to teach them more in the doing than simply telling people to use less.

  • alantex (unverified)
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    As much as I'd like to believe that we can build a just sustainable future for this planet without sacrifice -- voluntary and involuntary, as the reality of our situation becomes more clear and more desperate, I am coming to realize that times are going to get tough. How tough isn't clear and is dependent upon a host of variables, not the least of which is what attitude we approach our powered-down future with.

    I read a book review on AlterNet today by David Morris, of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance which has been working for sustainable communities since the early 1970s. He reviews British writer, George Monbiot's new book, "Heat". Heres a link to the review: http://www.alternet.org/envirohealth/46318/

    I highly recommend this review for anyone who thinks biofuels, hybrid autos, and solar panels are going to provide an easy, seamless transition to a future with global warming under control.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Leslie Carlson wrote:

    "While I completely agree with this statement--clearly, we cannot continue to use the natural resources of this planet to the same extent we do now without risking environmental collapse, war, famine and drought--I am skeptical that the average American will respond to the argument that it's time to conserve and use less without some sort of future crisis."

    Unfortunately, I must agree with you, Leslie. That is why I believe we are, as a society, doomed to to a disastrous future of our own making. Humans are not good at recognizing and responding to long-term problems that develop gradually. Therefore, we will suffer and die in large numbers. The future of humanity will lie with those communities that develop a low-energy consuming, localized economy and are lucky enough to not be run over by the coming chaos.

    That is not to say that we should not work at societal sustainability. It can lead to useful technologies and possibly delay disaster for a while. If I were making bets, though, I'd put money on a protracted Dark Ages in our future complete with wars, pestilence, and widespread ignorance.

    Party on!

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