Taking the road less traveled

Leslie Carlson

In the United States, we're not very good at taking the long view. Most corporations  operate with their eye on quarterly profits, not twenty-year time horizons. For many years, citizens have elected to spend what they earned--or even more than they earned--instead of saving for a rainy day. We've even underinvested as a society in the things that make a difference over the course of someone's life: pre-K programs, basic health care for all, climate standards that protect the next seven generations.

That's why I'm so impressed with the focus by Governor Kulongoski on renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions standards and on bringing sustainably-oriented businesses to Oregon. As the Oregonian reported today, the Governor has spent many hours on policies to create a 21st-century green economy and on tackling climate change--policies that may not bear fruit until long after he's out of office.

Climate change, in particular, is a tough issue for politicians to tackle. The time horizons for climate change are in decades or centuries, not two- or four-year terms. Groundwork has to be laid today for actions that we will take tomorrow to reduce emissions, including setting standards for a cap-and-trade system, setting broad goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (the Kyoto standard) and on help traditional businesses transition to more sustainable ways of operating.

Kulongoski has shyed away from none of these issues, and during one of the most severe recessions of our lifetimes at that. It can't have been easy to keep focused on these issues at a time when budgets are being cut and vital public services eroded.

I'm confident that the Governor will be given good credit in the future for laying the foundations of what I hope in Oregon will be a vibrant, post-carbon society. A journey of a 1,000 miles begins with the first step, and I'd like to thank the Governor for being brave enough to take those first steps for us.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    "Most corporations operate with their eye on quarterly profits, not twenty-year time horizons."

    That statement shows that you know nothing of business.

    I took training classes at IBM in 1979. The classes were recorded on optical disks, a technology which fifteen or twenty years later became DVD's.

    Corporations do look at quarterly profits, but their long view is not from quarter to quarter, it is from decade to decade. In order to be sustainable, they have to look at the long view.

    I would like for you to explain to me just what exactly this "green economy" is going to be. The much touted solar panel manufacturer that was going to set up digs in Hillsboro has changed their mind. Portland continues to do a slow dance with Vesta, but so far no deal.

    The governor has spent many hours, dreaming about "green jobs", but where are they? And what are they going to be?

    Right now, all the governor can come up with to stimulate job creation is to dump a bunch of money into good old, dirty, non green construction jobs to lay asphalt(a very carbon laden, oil based product) and build bridges (to help CO2 spewing automobiles to get around) and put new HVAC systems in schools (there goes the Ozone layer). Not very green prospects in my view. Where is the governor planning to use federal stimulus dollars for "green" jobs? Nowhere that I've heard of.

    If most corporations only look from quarter to quarter, then please explain to me why Ford Motor Company, which just LOST 5.6 billion in the last quarter, has said they don't need or want any federal bailout money.

    You can make sweeping generalizations about corporations, or small businesses, or conservatives, or anything else. But just cause you say it doesn't mean it's so.

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    Leslie, I truly hope you are right, but I think you are not. I think this will be the last initiative of Kulongoski's term, and I don't expect it will go far. It's not enough to just have good intentions. It's not enough, as Ben Cannon is quoted, to just bottle commitment.

    As I've posted elsewhere, I just don't see us becoming the center of green anything, not when we don't have the manufacturing base, the industrial base, the corporate base, or the educational base. I think we've already been outmaneuvered by Denver.

    The ONLY chance I see is to leverage OSU to become a hotbed of green environmental research. Yet we are going to starve, once again, our higher educational system in this biennial.

    If the Governor really wants to be remembered, he can take on our broken revenue system. I fear this will be just the last hot issue that, by his own admission, he has flitted to in his term.

    I hope I'm wrong.

  • (Show?)

    Thank you Dave Lister. I get so tired of the government class saying business is only focused on the short term. That is such a canard, usually uttered by folks who have zero basis or personal knowledge of how businesses operate, confident they will get knowing nods from others like them.

    I am also amused by this fantasy of a "vibrant post-carbon society." Humans being a carbon based life form, we all better hope this is NOT our future.

    The notion that government somehow has superior foresight and therefore knows, as Kulongoski claims, what will be the "next economic revolution" has been disproven time and time again.

    The fact is all these so-called "green energy" technologies are far less cost efficient than how we produce energy now. Whether they will ever become cost effective is entirely speculative, and the governor and BlueOregon types seem hell-bent on using LOTS of public funds speculating on it.

    We spent billions speculating on shale oil in the 1970s. Portland wasted hundreds of millions speculating on biotech, and tens of millions speculating on "creative services."

    Any time the political class tells me what the next economic revolution is going to be, I grab my wallet. Unfortunately, they have a gun to pry my wallet open.

  • rural resident (unverified)

    The concept of a "green economy" may seem noble and visionary, but given the current economic situation it is pie-in-the-sky, at least for the moment.

    We need to create jobs (preferably in the private sector) to get back on track. I don't care if those jobs are green, blue, or pink with purple polka dots, as long as they help improve things for families and communities.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    I am also amused by this fantasy of a "vibrant post-carbon society." Humans being a carbon based life form, we all better hope this is NOT our future.

    She meant the era when you stop using the atmosphere as a dump! No, you were right. Humans not demonstrating superiority by dumping on anything whenever they feel like it is a fantasy. Yeah, you can hope for me too; I'm not up to it.

    That statement shows that you know nothing of business. ... Corporations do look at quarterly profits, but their long view is not from quarter to quarter, it is from decade to decade.

    You're usually better than that kind of summary dismissal. The operative word is "operate". They may "take the long view", but if you've ever had experience in just-below-top-management, it is a daily repetition of "why we can't follow the vision we agreed because there's a fire to fight today". Seriously, I had a list of Windows 1.1 fixes pinned to my bulletin board that I kept and those items weren't addressed until XP. I was told by a SVP at Tandy that the only reason we had those long term planning meetings was to keep us occupied until the next crisis. I distinctly remember a number of folks mentioning the "Y2K" problem in 1983 and Gates' rep. saying, "anyone using Windows in 2000 has bigger problems than Y2K".

    Leslie is talking about priorities, I believe. You can't always have both, but which do you sacrifice? It generally is always the long term, and that isn't going to fix systemic problems. Unfortunately, if you're a believer in one common interpretation of the Maya calendar, the short-term will all that can reasonably be managed to, until about 2013. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be getting in practice in the meantime.

  • Chris (unverified)

    Wow, Leslie you must be on to something here. You know that if you get blasted by such forward thinkers as Dave Lister, Rob Kremer and "Paul" you must be on the right track. Keep up your great writing!

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