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Bill Richardson: Turning on the Engine of the Green Energy Economy

Turning on the Engine of the Green Energy Economy

Speech delivered by Governor Bill Richardson

Let me thank the sponsoring organizations, the Korea Energy Economics Institute, the Council of Energy and Research and Education Leaders, the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware, and the National Council for Science and Environment, for giving me a chance today to offer my perspective on how the scientific and technological vision for a Green Energy Economy can find traction with policy makers and society at large. Emerging efforts to establish a global scientific agenda for sustainable development will be a key factor in the emergence of the Green Energy Economy.

First, we have some good news and a message of hope for people around the world who are yearning for a better life for themselves and their children:  the creation of a Green Energy Economy will unleash a truly astonishing level of economic activity, investment, and broad-based growth, thereby generating the green jobs of the future.

The Green Energy Economy is not a future event, to arrive at some special moment in time, suddenly emerging in the nick of time. It is already here in part. And, my friends, it is growing, and will continue to grow at an ever accelerating pace. It is and will be dynamic in nature, ever changing, constantly demanding adjustments to new conditions. It will be exciting, yet test our societal ability to adapt. It  will require  new thinking and bold leadership.

When I served as Secretary of Energy and as Governor of New Mexico, I worked with national laboratories, scientific research institutions, universities, and private enterprise to stimulate the creation and growth of a Green Energy Economy. I always did my best to encourage them to work together to create green products, green services, and green jobs. I have witnessed the results and seen it pick up steam and I know that a Green Energy Economy will build the kind of future that people around the world want and deserve.

The Green Energy Economy must be built on the basic needs of people:  jobs and livelihoods, food and water, health and clean energy, social equity and the ecological underpinnings of all life. I believe these concerns are civilizational imperatives. Together, they can provide pathways to peace.

That is why the Green Energy Economy must be inclusive as its first order of business. That is why we must embrace the idea that broad based educational opportunity is at the heart of the Green Energy Economy. That is why it is important to underscore that green jobs will be generated across the socio- economic spectrum. And that is why a Green Energy Economy can only arise in the context of sustainable development, as Mr. Sha Zukang, Secretary- General for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development ( called Rio + 20) has emphasized.

For all of its emphasis on breakthrough technologies, inventions, and brilliant innovations, a truly Green Energy Economy represents a clear break from the old order, which viewed economic progress as antagonistic to environmental protection and social equity. Poverty eradication is not an add- on, but rather, a moral objective for a humane society and the standard of measurement as to whether the Green Energy Economy, as we envision it and seek to create it, really does lift all boats. Poverty eradication is the moral compass of the Green Economy.

The universal desire for energy security, at the heart of this global shift, touches the economic, social, and environmental pillars of our civilization. On the one hand, we should be realistic enough to understand that the embedded infrastructure and financial investments in our current fossil fuel system cannot be changed overnight and, therefore, we should encourage and support bridging technologies in the transportation and power sectors that can reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. At the same time, we should never lose sight of the ultimate objective of the Green Energy Economy: bringing our energy systems into harmony with the the earth's ecological cycles.

Scientific insights, investigations, and breakthroughs, both incremental and transformational, will affect the pace and direction of this great transition. Energy efficiency, of course, is our first option. It is proven, cost effective, and ready right now. More efficient buildings are making significant reductions in energy use, as can be seen in the dramatic growth of LEED certified buildings. Cars can be dramatically more efficient, with technological advances making them safer and cleaner. Across all business sectors, the efficiency wave will be a continually driving force within the Green Energy Economy.

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar and biomass are making real progress into the marketplace around the world. The growth of these technologies, as can be seen in the projections of the International Energy Agency, is extremely impressive. New ideas for universal energy access are emerging throughout the world. Leaders in India are exploring new ways to bring off- grid power to the 1.4 billion people who have no electricity whatsoever. Smart grids are gaining popularity. Geographic information systems are being incorporated at every level of government and in the private sphere as well. Geospatial planning for smarter urban development and systems management is becoming ubiquitous, as can be seen in the upcoming Eye on Earth Summit in Abu Dhabi, where, for the first time, all of the principal geographic information networks of the world will be gathering. We are also seeing a new wave of hybrid and bridging technologies in power plants, waste management, and transportation, which have the capacity to significantly  reduce pollution levels and mitigate greenhouse gas impacts.

Beyond these efforts to reduce and ameliorate the adverse effects of energy production, distribution, and use, scientists and cutting edge research institutions are investigating ideas that could not only mitigate impacts, but solve some of these problems entirely. Our ultimate goal is not to kill the earth more slowly, but to save the earth. We have an ethical obligation to save the biodiversity, the habitability, and the beauty of our only home in this universe, the earth. Biogeochemical cycles have made the earth a livable place and we need to heed the admonitions of William McDonough and develop cradle to cradle systems, not cradle to grave ones. The earth is a vast recycling enterprise, and human contrived systems need to fit into these systems, not distort them.

Closely related to energy security is food security. Just as scientists created the ideas for the Green Revolution, which averted a global famine, so today we need to green the green revolution. Professor MS Swaminathan was a partner of Dr. Norman Borlaug in launching the Green Revolution. He has begun to promote the concept of an Evergreen Revolution, a sustainable and conservation minded agriculture that addresses the fact that aquifers are being lowered at a frightening rate and top soils are being eroded and exhausted so quickly that desertification is spreading. According to the FAO, 30%- 50% of the food produced globally is estimated to be wasted.  If we are to feed the next three billion people who will be added to the planet, mainly in the developing world, we will need to listen to visionary leaders like Dr. Swaminathan and Dr. Dennis Garrity, the Executive Director of the World Agroforestry Council, who have led agricultural research centers around the world. Business as usual will not feed the world of nine to ten billion people in the second half of this century.

The Green Energy Economy will also need to address the question of water security. According to a new report by EIRIS, by 2030, the demand for water will exceed supply by 40%, under a business as usual scenario. The number of countries and regions that are water stressed is already serious and the agricultural, industrial, and urban demands for water in the future will challenge our capacity to respond in this area of absolute necessity. The close interrelationship between water and energy, as is evident in the potentiality and limitations in our current desalination and sewage treatment plants, will require new thinking, new designs and technologies, while ideas like drip irrigation will require new levels of organization. With swiftly depleting fossil aquifers supplying such a large percentage of our irrigated agriculture and water from rivers experiencing unsustainable demands, the dependence on rainfall agriculture becomes more and more perilous. If ever the world needed to see the link between the agenda for sustainable development and the issues of war and peace between nations and regions, the threat of water scarcity in the future makes the case starkly and ominously.

Underlying energy, food, and water security is, as we all know, climate change. Despite the setbacks of the international community and the difficulties in Congress, the sheer weight of the scientific evidence will force policy makers at all levels of government to confront this threat. All of the other security concerns will be exacerbated by an anemic response to the drivers of climate change.

While there was an initial reluctance to pursue policies of adaptation because some people thought that it might appear to be throwing in the towel on mitigation and prevention, the accumulating evidence of ongoing climate change, as well as future adverse effects that will inevitably arise from embedded technologies already in the pipeline, demand that we approach this central challenge from all angles. One thing we know for sure: this issue cannot be wished away by politicians or buried by those who would deny the anthropogenic impact of climate change. We are in this fight for the long term. We have no choice.

Some people get the wrong idea that the Green Economy does not include how we treat the natural world and the free ecological services that it provides. This perception could not be further from the truth. The Green Economy is part and parcel of the great life support systems of the planet.

The Millennium Development Report, which brought together the work of 1400 scientists, clearly showed that the basic ecosystems of the natural world are deteriorating. The Report's findings must find their way into our discussions of the Green Economy and attain a much higher priority in our public policy decision making. Such paramount concerns like the loss of biodiversity are rising on the agendas of decision makers in the developed and developing world, as can be seen from the recent UN Conference on Biodiversity in Japan.

 While more attention is being focused on the impacts of deforestation, desertification, ocean acidification, dead zones, and overfishing, the implications of the Millennium Development Report are far more dire and devastating in their impact on our future than has been acknowledged by leaders in government and industry. It is impossible to overstate the importance of these ecological support systems. This concern can not be consigned to the environmental departments of state and national governments alone. These free ecological services are  valuable assets of a country and need to be factored into the development budgets of governments through their treasury and economic departments. We need to translate these ecological benefits into the language of economics, as the World Bank is trying to do, so governments, both developed and developing countries, will shift their investment patterns to include the preservation and restoration of these life support systems. These natural assets need to be counted  when we  measure the wealth of nations.

Energy efficiency, new green energy sources, water, food, climate change, and ecological services. These are not separate issues. They are interconnected and inseparable. A huge assortment of green technologies and services are targeted at different aspects of the crises in energy, water, food and climate change, but the green economy must integrate all of them. Scientists and businesses alike will be better served if they set up processes and programs to avoid silos and strive to address the connections between these critical issues.

One of the best ideas to integrate these diverse issues into a coherent force for sustainability would be the creation of an infrastructure bank. Building on the true foundation of America's power, an infrastructure bank would strengthen our communities and make them more resilient. Based on sound science and long term investment criteria,  it would stimulate a plan that would bring together the different sectors of our economy--- energy efficient buildings and smart cities, mass transit and better inter-modal transportation, science and education, and conservation minded agriculture, forests, and water supplies.

It is important to recognize that the Green Economy is emerging at a time of exponential technological change. While we have seen great scientific and technological revolutions in thinking and perspective over the course of history, the future will see increasing waves of change, sweeping through our world at a rate and magnitude that will challenge not only our world views, but our societal behavior and our ability to adapt.

Ray Kurzweil, who was awarded the National Medal of Technology, has convincingly made the case that we are living in a world where exponential growth in technology is permeating all aspects of our culture and society. The Green Economy will be intertwined in these exponentially growing systems, benefiting from these trends, but repeatedly challenged to find its footing as new, disruptive technologies hit the market. Our basic governance capacity, here and around the world, will be put to the test in unprecedented ways as we endeavor to keep pace with these nonlinear, complex, adaptive systems.

These trends will increasingly make our systems more integrated, interconnected, and interdependent. Today, research and development departments in the public and private spheres are striving to find the right mix of disciplines for innovation, new collaborative models, transparent and open platforms to share data and information.

On the other hand, as systems evolve and grow in complexity, it becomes more difficult to fix them if something goes wrong. When disasters or acute disruptions occur, whether human caused or natural, the fragility of these systems can cause cascade effects and various levels of systemic collapse, resulting in loss of life, great suffering, and ecological catastrophe. All we have to do is read the papers: the hurricane that hit Haiti, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the nuclear disaster in Japan. The list is daunting. While the specific disaster may not be predictable, the pattern of these kinds of disasters and acute disruptions should not always surprise us. The Green Economy of the future must be able to strategically handle these kinds of events. We should be looking over the horizon and envision how various sectors can prepare themselves for these kinds of obstacles on the path of sustainable development.

For that reason, two far- seeing organizations, the US Green Building Council and ICLEI, USA, consisting of 600 cities and counties across America, recently launched a new resiliency movement, particularly as it relates to security. Dr. Stephen Flynn, a widely respected national leader has pointed out: “ Resilience is the capacity of individuals, communities, companies, and the government to withstand, respond to, adapt to, and recover from disasters.” In other words, this movement will involve every level of society. You cannot have a Green Economy unless it is resilient. Before disasters communities need to design a set of pre-event policies, based on prevention, mitigation, planning, and preparation, as well as post- event policies,  including emergency relief, crisis management, and guidelines and plans to build back better, smarter,  faster, and greener.

The military has already begun to take a very serious look at this concept as a way to promote security and we should work with them as they seek more resilient ways to construct their buildings and bases, switch to biofuels, and plan for the consequences of climate change. This resiliency movement needs to be informed by the scientific agenda and incorporated at every level of government and into every private enterprise.

If these are some of the critical components, how do we accelerate the transition to the Green Economy?

The key that will turn on the engine of the Green Economy is a global, overarching commitment to integrated scientific research, education, and outreach that is focused on the great challenges of sustainable development. The scientific agenda for sustainable development is too important to the future of humanity to proceed through ad hoc activities, or depend on the ancillary benefits from a vast variety of uncoordinated programs and policies.

As part of the global community of scientists and academicians, you have the historic opportunity to participate in the endeavor to define the scope and various dimensions of the Green Economy and determine how your knowledge and expertise can be best utilized and leveraged into the marketplace.

One venue where you could focus your energies is the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, ( Rio + 20), scheduled for June of 2012.  The Heads of State will be focused on the vital importance of creating a Green Economy. The leaders who gather at this historic UN Conference will set forth new opportunities and threats that will confront us in the coming years on the path to sustainable development. The scientific community should have its voice heard as the global agenda is formulated and implemented over the next twenty years.

Excellent work on an integrated research agenda has already been undertaken by scientific groups around the world under the auspices of the International Council for Science ( ICSU), in close cooperation with the International Social Science Council ( ISSC) and the Belmont Forum-representing the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research. These teams of scientists have proposed a policy relevant, solution- oriented Earth Systems Research for Global Sustainability  Initiative and called for it to be adopted at the Rio + 20 Conference. This ten year initiative will require research on a wide variety of social, economic, cultural, institutional, and environmental issues. These scientific groups have set forth five grand challenges: 1. improving forecasts, 2. integrating observation systems, 3. handling disruptive changes, 4. more effective environmental governance, and 5. innovation in technology, policy, and social responses. Each of these challenges has identified critical research questions that are answerable within a decade. Along with the disciplinary- dominated structure of academia, there is a need to embrace the interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary aspects of these grand challenges.

In addition to a global research initiative, let me issue a new challenge to the scientific groups around the world. I believe that now is the time to create an integrated science education agenda for global sustainable development, applicable to decision makers and society at large. Networks of universities and scientific groups will need to define, organize, and coordinate such a global undertaking. Scientific curricula for sustainable development need to be strengthened and broadly disseminated. More interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary academic programs will be needed.  Better integration and coordination around a common, non-ideological agenda will be needed to effectively engage institutional leaders, ensuring participation at all relevant stages of policy making. Since political leaders must look across a wide field of constituents in making their decisions, they will tend to listen better if the proposals are organized, prioritized, and coordinated from across the academic and scientific spectrum. Finding ways to objectively assess benefits and risks and formulate consensus documents around these conclusions would be a serious addition to sound public policy decision-making for countries and regions around the world. For these reasons, I fully support the call for a global scientific strategy that can be seen as a holistic response to the multi-stakeholder efforts to create a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development.

Efforts to launch this new initiative and establish the new international partnerships that are envisioned over the next ten years will eventually require a coordinated international funding strategy that is equal to the size of the challenge. Look at some examples in the past where the scientific enterprise has been successful. The scientific community is widely perceived to be playing an indispensable role in maintaining the vital national security interests of the country. Today, the military depend on a steady stream of products from the scientific community. For example, the emergent field of cybersecurity is  quickly developing and a whole new infrastructure around this issue is being created. Policy makers understand the value of the wide array of security and defense products and they are willing to pay for  investments in science and technology.

Similarly in the area of biomedical research we have seen many breakthroughs that have cured diseases and controlled epidemics. People believe in the ability of science to continue to produce products that will prevent disease and ameliorate suffering,  and the case for investment is convincing to the people and their representatives.

If we are going to advance the green economy faster, our vision must be clear and understandable.  We need to make the case that an integrated and coordinated global scientific research and education agenda will produce a societal return on investment that is meaningful to people in their daily lives. We should make the case that the role of science for sustainable development can be trusted because we have succeeded in the past and can be counted to do so consistently in the future.

What are some of the best examples where science for sustainable development has proven beneficial? The premiere example that we can cite, as I have already alluded to,  is the Green Revolution, a triumph of scientific breakthroughs and organizational capacity building that prevented famine on a global scale.

Another example and proven success was the Montreal Protocol which was designed to protect the ozone layer and brilliantly negotiated by the  President of the National Council on Science and Environment, Ambassador Richard Benedict. This example represents a classic case of science informing policy makers about the problem and its available solutions, thereby fortifying strong and knowledgeable negotiators to fashion a successful international treaty.

Just as we have seen success in these examples, we need to build a powerful case that  investments in science and technology can turn on the engine of  the green economy. The case must be well organized and articulated, tight and easily accessible, and persistently made to the public at large and the decision makers at all levels. As the advances in science and technology create new and better industrial plants, products, and services that in aggregate constitute the Green Economy, we will need to continually update the case we are making by providing new examples, without confusing the basic points.

So let's not mystify the Green Economy. It's really pretty straightforward in terms of its objectives. In fact, many of these issues fit into the broadened security perspective that I am beginning to advance in my work at the Richardson Center for Peace..

Fortunately, most people around the world are on our side. They believe that the scientific enterprise can work for them. Therefore, let me point out what I believe is the greatest asset that you have--- your credibility. Arthur C. Clark famously said that as science advances to higher and higher levels of sophistication and complexity, it becomes indistinguishable from magic. People can see the results, but increasingly they cannot understand the processes that created them. To solve the interlocking problems that constitute the obstacles to a Green Energy Economy, people must necessarily believe that you as a community are credible, that they can trust you. People and decision makers will reform the patent process, protect intellectual property, fund basic and applied research, support science education and outreach, and do all the other things that are necessary to support your grand endeavors as long as they see you as credibly working for the better good of all.

As scientists and academic leaders you carry a sacred trust. Creating an inclusive Green Economy is a  noble effort, affecting not only the quality of life, but basic survivability. So whatever else I may do in the future, I pledge that I will champion your noble cause and, in my own small way, do my utmost to link the global scientific agenda for sustainable development and a Green Economy to policy makers and political leaders, here at home and around the world.

 

 

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