At George Washington University, NBC News Chief Enviromental Correspondent Anne Thompson and a panel of experts discuss how America can be transitioned away from traditional energy sources and towards a green economy. Included are Ken Zweibel, director of the Solar Institute at George Washington University, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All, Chris Busch, Director of Policy at the Apollo Alliance and Tim Juliani, director of Corporate Engagement at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. This "Changing Planet" Town Hall was produced in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
Changing Planet GWU Town Hall - Full Program
ANNE THOMPSON VO:
It means a lot more than just changing a light bulb.
It may require a wholesale transformation of the American economy.
Other countries have already taken the lead.
But back in the U.S., where are those green jobs? Who is doing them? And what about the workers who get left behind?
And without a national policy on clean energy or climate …
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA [IN CLIP]:
We’ve run into the same political gridlock, the same inertia that has held us back for decades.
ANNE THOMPSON VO:
… where will the most innovative ideas come from, to help bring us to an affordable energy future?
For NBC Learn, I’m Anne Thompson and this is “Changing Planet.”
[GRAPHIC TITLE: Changing Planet]
ANNE THOMPSON: Hi, and welcome to “Changing Planet.” We’ll be talking about clean energy, green jobs and global competition here at George Washington University in the nation’s capital.
Our partners are the National Science Foundation, Discover Magazine and Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the George Washington University.
They have run a contest for the best energy innovation video, and we are going to show you the winning entry later in this broadcast.
We have a very distinguished panel joining us. And we start with Ken Zweibel, who is the director of the Solar Institute at George Washington University. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, who’s CEO a Green For All. Chris Busch, he’s the Director of Policy at the Apollo Alliance and Tim Juliani, the director of Corporate Engagement at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
A lot of people were just warming up to the idea of nuclear energy as a carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels. In a recent Discover Magazine interview, the Energy Secretary suggested that a new generation of miniature reactors could jumpstart the nuclear industry in the United States. And then, there was the disaster in Japan. And people are rethinking just what are “clean energy” solutions.
ANNE THOMPSON [IN CLIP]:
Of all the aftershocks, nothing frightened the world more than this, an explosion at the troubled Fukushima -1 nuclear power plant. The Japanese government had already declared an atomic emergency here yesterday when the cooling systems failed.
And radiation leaks were detected. Now there is a real fear of a meltdown.
\When the earthquake struck, the reactor shut down as it was supposed to. But the quake also cut off the power needed to pump water to cool the reactors core.
And the back-up power systems failed. Without water to cool it, the core where the nuclear energy is created could overheat and melt
down, releasing radioactivity into the environment.
Japan’s nuclear safety agency rates this event a four on an international scale of one to seven--far below the best-known nuclear energy disasters, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
At Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island, there was a partial core meltdown but not a significant release of radiation. Japan now waits to see if its fate is the same.
The Japanese have now raised this incident to a seven on the international nuclear scale, putting it on a par with Chernobyl. So what are the lessons for us? I would like to start with Tim. Is this a setback for a transition to a clean energy economy? What’s your opinion?
I don’t know that it’s a setback for clean energy. I think it’s a moment for everybody to take a look at what the dangers of all of our energy sources are. In this country, about twenty percent of our power comes from nuclear. And while there are issues with safety, there are concerns about storage and waste. It’s also hard to imagine a clean energy future, a low-carbon energy future without nuclear.
But are people going to want to make nuclear apart of that clean energy future if there is radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean as we’re seeing at Fukushima. Phaedra, you’re shaking your head.
I think it’s important to make a distinction that I don’t think its part of a transition to a clean energy economy. And I think the American public is saying, we look at the expansion of nuclear that may not be the
option that we want.
Ken, when you look this as director of the Solar Institute here at George Washington, do you see this-- does what’s happened in Japan provide an opportunity for solar?
It’s clear that solar energy and wind energy are capable of meeting all the energy needs that we have. Sunshine in one hour is equal to all the electricity and energy that we use in the world in one year.
I’m now going to give you the top arguments against clean energy. And I want you each to give me your best answers. The first argument is, “Clean energy is way too expensive.” Chris?
Well, expensive when you’re counting the public health cost? The National Research Council has estimated the cost of burning fossil fuels at about a hundred and twenty billion dollars a year.
A hundred and twenty billion dollars a year. Another study out of the New York Academy of Sciences puts the number much higher. So it’s sort of, the cost to whom?
Clean energy is actually quite competitive in a lot of instances. We have, you know, people putting rooftop solar around their house because they can do that, lock in an electricity bill that is lower than they currently pay with no money down. So that’s an increasing option in parts of the country.
Phaedra, you work in urban areas. People, I’m sure say that it is just too expensive. What do you say to them?
Well, one I say, it’s just not true. And the people that tell you that it’s too expensive are the people that own the technology, that don’t want you to buy the other stuff. And, not only it’s in fact cheaper – which no one debates the facts, the actual facts – but the question is, whose investment advice do you want to follow: Dying industries? Or when you look at companies that are growing: Google is investing, just announced another a hundred and sixty million dollars in renewable energy and new forms of energy. When you look at countries’ economies that are growing, it’s China. It’s India. And so, there is no question that the economies of the future are going to invest in clean energy. The question is, do we want to be a part of it? So when they say it’s cheaper, I say that’s just not true, and I’m not going to take advice from peoples whose industries are dying. And not only dying but killing the communities that depend on them. So, just not true.
ANNE THOMPSON: “If we move away from traditional energy sources, we could loose our competitive edge.”
I think not moving to clean energy costs us our competitive edge. I mean, you know, the Chinese, the global market, the global investment and clean energy last year was about two hundred and forty-three billion dollars. And so, they see the role that clean energy has in a modern global economy. And they’re taking advantage of it.
One of the things that often missed is the externalities, or the costs of conventional energy that are not explicit in your bill. They’re implicit in catastrophes in the Gulf of Mexico or in the problems in Japan. So in a sense, we’re already paying a higher price for our energy that we’re just not aware of. If you replace that with clean energy, are we losing our competitive edge?
One aspect we need to pay attention to is capturing the manufacturing jobs that come with the clean energy transition. We’re going to get the jobs installing, upgrading and maintaining these electricity-generating facilities in the U.S. And it’s really financing availability that is China’s hidden advantage. They’re making it easier to borrow money to build these facilities. They’re giving away land, more or less, in order to help build the facilities. And so, I think, you know, our government is being out-competed in that sense in this, you know, next great market that’s being developed.
“There are fewer good jobs in clean energy than in fossil fuels.”
That’s a joke. Again, intentionally Mother Nature has stored fossil fuels in the ground and then you pump it up. And so, eighty percent of the job is done by Mother Nature.
And then, the rest of it is transportation and refining. In solar and wind, you’re building the facility that actually converts the primary energy, the sun or the wind into something that’s usable. And then, you’re maintaining that during the lifetime in the system. So there are actually many more jobs in green energy than there are in fossil fuels.
TIM JULIANI: I’ve think saying that, you know, we shouldn’t move to a clean energy economy because there are more fossil fuel jobs now would be like saying that we shouldn’t have bought the Model T because we had more ferriers than we had auto mechanics, right? So we have the most adaptive and innovative economy in the world. And if we don’t lead on this, others will. And we know that we can, and I just think that’s all a hollow argument.
What’s important to know is what’s different about a green economy is you have the potential to make things again. That is, the potential of bringing back a manufacturing economy. We make new electric cars. We think about making new forms of energy. And so, the reason a green economy is so important is because we make something that then-- ultimately, we can trade with other countries. So the question is, you know, do you think an economy that imports water and batteries is the most effective economy, or an economy actually has those things?
When we come back, we’re going to discuss, can clean energy technologies create good jobs?
[TEXT: COMING UP: CREATING GREEN JOBS]
[SEGMENT 2 – TRT 08:11]
Welcome back to “Changing Planet.” One of the challenges with clean energy is convincing people that it creates jobs. After all, coal is available all over the world, and it provides a decent living. Here in the United States, coal miners make almost sixty thousand dollars a year. Now that’s an especially compelling argument in these times of high
unemployment. Can the wind and solar and geothermal industries do that?
Phaedra, when you go and talk to people in the cities across America and you talk about green jobs, and they ask you how much they pay, are they disappointed when you give them the answer?
They’re not. And I think what’s good is, I actually get to talk to people who have green jobs. And I think about places like the city of Portland where people are actually doing energy efficiency, making it more cheap for people to use electricity in their own homes. And we see people who start out at about fifteen dollars an hour, which is a higher starting rate.
And so, the thing that I say is that we’re desperate for jobs. We need to figure out how to get more and these are the industries that pay. Because I think what we know is there’s less coal jobs today than there were last year. There’ll be the less next year than they were year. And people work less. And so the industries that are growing, that pay well are, in fact, the clean energy industries.
And it’s important, I think for us so that people that green jobs – what they are? Because I think not only is it transportation, waste and recycling, energy efficiency that – water – that there is incredible amounts of what a green job looks like. But it’s important, you know, you probably know someone that has one. And they pay pretty well.
Chris, the jobs in the fossil fuel industries help built the middle class of this country. Can jobs in clean energy industries do the same? Or is they’re naturally going to be some kind of drop off and then a build up to
that same kind of wage level?
I don’t think there has to be any drop-off and part of it relates to the challenge of winning the manufacturing jobs that I talked about earlier. Those are also well-paid jobs that are accessible and have been a ladder up – an upward mobility, a window of opportunity throughout the last decades of American history.
And another point would be, I think, to consider green jobs – and I think Phaedra started talking about this -- to consider green jobs as some sort of exotic strange, different thing is wrong. They can be jobs that we already know, like driving your public transit system, or maintaining it or building it or, you know, jobs building the Chevy Volt in the auto industry.
I think what’s so hard about those who are fighting clean energy is they try to make this argument about cost, but they don’t talk about the real costs for the people that live in those dirty industries.
And when you look at the number of people that are dying on the job, when you look at the health of communities, when you look at the BP oil spill, the death of the coal miners, when we look at what’s happening in Japan. I mean, the consequence of industries that are dirty is that we pay in a different way. We pay through our health care costs.
But ultimately, it’s those who are most vulnerable in this country that pay the costs. When you look at the economies of coal states, those aren’t thriving economies. And so, I think it’s important that, you know, I’m for a clean energy economy because I want this economy to succeed. But also, because I think it’s unfair that those who are poor, white working-class, people of color are paying the cost of the dirtiest
And yet, some of those people in those industries would tell you, those are the jobs that are available to them. I mean, one of the most amazing things about the BP oil spill was down along the coast of Louisiana for is much destruction as what’s done by that oil. The people there don’t want the oil industry to go away. They want it to stay because it is a very important part of their economy.
Yeah, I mean, I think, I grew in a community where I still live that was one of the worse places for air quality in California because it was the Shell refinery, Chevron, CNH, Anheuser-Busch, all within a thirty-mile radius. And I think that part of what I’m so – and Green for All is so – committed to this vision is because there’s no question we’re going to make the transition. And I think the reason we have to talk about clean energy is because whatever conversation happens here, in the communities I come from, that’s still the only choice people have.
But if those jobs don’t provide the same wages and benefits, people are reluctant to make that change, Tim, how can you convince them to do otherwise?
TIM JULIANI: You know, you’re framing it as, you know, sort of these “other” jobs, you know, those clean energy, these alternative energy out there, you know, alternative energy is like “ponytail energy.” And it’s vaguely socialist and somewhat hippy-ish, right? And, but, you know, when you look at the – a lot of the jobs we’re talking about, it’s Dow Chemical, it’s General Electric, it’s turning, you know, the eighty-year-old Empire State Building into a LEED gold building. You know those are real jobs by real people. They’re real people, you know, building
the Prius. They’re real people building the Volt. So don’t just think of it as another part of that kind of crazy economy. Think of it as transitioning America to a global leader in a new energy economy.
I think one of the best places to look at the potential is in California, where green jobs are growing about three times faster than other types of jobs. And in 2008, while other types of jobs were shrinking, green jobs in California grew five percent.
Ken, in the solar industry, are there good jobs?
I worked in the solar industry, and the people that I worked with were highly trained. They were scientists, they were marketing people, they were accountants, they were lawyers, they were regular people. And I find the distinction between green jobs and other jobs to be somewhat artificial. I don’t understand it.
Do Americans have the skill set for this new economy, for these jobs? Tim?
Well, I think like any other transition, you know, we had plenty of peoples that could do typewriters before we had computers and now we don’t have as many typewriter technicians. Not that there’s anything wrong with typewriter technicians. But you know, so we will continue to transition. This is the greatest economy in the world with the most educated and intelligent workforce. To think that we can’t do it is not the sort of “can-do” attitude that’s made this country what it is.
I think that we have to just be clear: either we’re a country that makes things happen or we’re not. Right? Either – what we’re watching China and India do is what we used to do. We used to go look at new economies and we’d grow and we’d invest and we’d believe in this country. And I think the questions you raised, which are the right questions are the ones we’re hearing, if we thought about someone else saying that about America, we’d be offended. “We can’t do it. We’re not scaled enough. We only have a couple states that are already doing it. It’s scary. I don’t know if you have capacity” and I just think I believe in this country more than that. And I’m watching the people – when you meet the people whose lives are being transformed, that’s the country I want to be apart of.
Which countries do you think lead the world in clean energy investment? The answers may surprise you.
[TEXT: COMING UP: GLOBAL COMPETITION]
[SEGMENT 3 – TRT: 3:38]
Welcome back to Changing Planet. What is extraordinary about Denmark is that it has reduced its greenhouse gases and managed to grow its economy. Let’s watch this clip.
DAWNA FRIESEN [IN CLIP]:
Beyond Denmark’s pretty harbors and historic streets, lie new landmarks propelling this tiny nation--wind turbines. More than fifty-five hundred of them offshore and on land enough to supply twenty percent of Denmark’s electricity needs with plans to increase that to fifty percent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE [IN CLIP]:
It’s a renewable energy source and it will blow forever.
DAWNA FRIESEN [IN CLIP]:
And it emits no pollution or carbon dioxide.
Humans have been harnessing wind power for centuries, this windmill is four hundred years old, but what the Danes have done is transform an age-old idea and become world leaders in wind power.
Denmark’s wind industry is the world’s largest, employing twenty-thousand people. Ninety percent of the turbines that produces are exported. Nowhere is the power and simplicity of what the Danes have done more striking than on the tiny island of Samso.
From watching TV to running the dishwasher, every bit of power people here use comes from its twenty-one wind turbines, which residents like Jesper Kenns (ph) own shares in.
DAWNA FRIESEN [IN CLIP]:
Do you feel like your part is something special here?
JESPER KENNS: Yeah, very much so.
DAWNA FRIESEN [IN CLIP]:
There are two key things that make this island experiments so successful, one is government incentives to get things started and two is getting the local people involved, so that everyone has a personal stake in making it work.
Tim, the Pew Environment Group or the Pew Charitable Trusts which is different from your group, recently did a study that shows how much investment is being made in clean energy by the G20 countries, or the world’s leading economies. And we find that China is number one, Germany is number two, the U.S. comes in third and from what I understand Spain and Japan are catching up on our heels. What’s happened?
Well, I think it’s pretty clear that the countries that have enabled policy to drive their clean energy sectors are taking the lead. I mean, Germany, one of the cloudiest countries on the planet, is one of the global leaders in solar. That doesn’t happen by accident. China has made clean energy a top priority, and they have instituted policy to see that through. The United States is lagging on the policy front, as we all know. And until we change our minds and get serious about it, that’s going to continue to be a problem.
When you look at the policies that other countries are creating, they provide incentives for the industries, they want to grow, they provide consequences for the ones that they don’t want to grow. And we don’t have any of those policies at a national level. But even if you don’t believe in global warming, you have to believe in the economy, because when you see other countries, it’s not as the China or India, or Germany is doing this just because it’s the right thing to do and they’re concerned about global warming. It’s because they want their economies to survive.
That brings us to our next point. When we come back; just what is the U.S. policy on clean energy?
[TEXT: COMING UP: POLITICAL GRIDLOCK]
[SEGMENT 4, TRT: 9:34]
Welcome back to “Changing Planet.” In this country we still import about eleven million barrels of oil per day. President Obama recently set an ambitious goal for breaking America’s addiction to foreign oil. Let’s watch this clip from NBC News.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE [IN CLIP]:
Under pressure with gas prices at home surging and unrest in the Middle East spreading, President Obama today outlined his plan to wean America off foreign oil.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA [IN CLIP]:
And we will keep on being a victim to shifts in the oil market until we finally get serious about a long-term policy for a secure, affordable energy future.
The President’s goal: cut oil imports by a third over ten years, by reducing U.S. consumption, greater use of clean energy, bio-fuels and natural gas, and by boosting oil and gas production here at home.
The president accused oil companies of sitting on existing oil leases without exploring or drilling. But Republicans say it's Democrats who are slowing domestic exploration with increased regulation in the wake of the gulf oil spill.
Senator MITCH McCONNELL [IN CLIP]: So, the problem isn't that we need to look elsewhere for our energy, the problem is that Democrats don't want us to use the energy we have.
Driven by turmoil in the Middle East, the nationwide average cost per gallon has jumped, now three dollars, fifty-five cents, prices not seen since 2008 in the height of the presidential campaign.
Still, a potent pocketbook issue that could affect the President’s political fortunes in 2012.
OBAMA [IN CLIP]:
I’ve got to be honest. We’ve run into the same political gridlock, the same inertia that has held us back for decades. That has to change.
Now we just saw that clean energy is only a part of President’s plan. His plan also relies on fossil fuels. Tom Friedman in the New York Times recently wrote, “This country has no clean energy policy and no climate policy.” Panel, why not?
I think, I mean, we should just be really honest: Congress messed up. I mean, its embarrassing that is, you talked about like climate policy that we did have two delegations that came to Copenhagen, which is a meeting of the United Nations. One that said, we believe in clean energy and we want to be part of the global solution, and another that said, we don’t believe in global warming.
Mm-Hm. In fact, I remember, I was over covering the Climate Change Conference that the UN had in Copenhagen and the Obama administration had essentially put on a charm offensive, they brought almost every cabinet secretary to present there and to tell the world that they were behind reducing greenhouse gases. And then Jim Inhofe, the senator from Oklahoma who’s a big climate change skeptic came over with a group of senators and congressmen to say, no, the United
States does not believe in climate change and a climate bill will never pass Congress. And so, even there, there were mixed messages about what this country is doing.
Tim, do you think its even possible in this country to have a clean energy policy given the divisions that exist politically in this country between those who support the oil and natural gas and coal industries and those who support renewables?
Well, let’s look at the business council that the Pew Center has, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. I mean, those were groups of companies that included fossil fuel, included oil and gas, included manufacturing, that were supportive of climate policy here in the United States.
I mean, we have two and a half trillion dollars in revenue on our business council and four million jobs that are in favor of mandatory policies on climate and energy.
And I think that you can’t underestimate the effect that the largest economic crisis since the Depression had on the debate. I wouldn’t say there is a climate policy and there’s a clean energy policy. A clean energy policy is de facto a climate policy and vice-versa.
To Tim’s point, there have been some good corporate actors in this conversation. But, you know, Big Oil and some of the vested interests in the old economy in dirty energy frankly have spent a lot of money to confuse the public, to distort science. And so as much as we can discuss whether the approach that was taken was right or wrong – and I think the fact that it didn’t work makes it pretty easy to say something
else should have been tried – you know, we have to, I think, also put the blame where it’s really due which is these old economies, companies that are trying to keep things where they are to the detriment of the larger good.
Reporting on this issue, one of the things that struck me is that you have the business community and there’s a fairly significant segment of the business community that wants to see some kind of definitive policy because they like certainty. Business likes certainty, they want to know how much they’re going to have to reduce their greenhouse gas production. You’ve seen a lot of cities and states, you know, try to tackle on a local level, the issue of greenhouse gas reduction. And yet on the federal level, the country is at a standstill, what is it going to take to change that? Ken?
I am afraid that the states have been the real source of innovation in this debate. They have been the real source of inspiration to get us going. And we still need that kind of grassroots inspiration to move the politicians.
I remember in Colorado when I was a citizen in Colorado that the state government was totally against the renewable energy standard, but there was an amendment passed at the grassroots level that voted it in. Within weeks, you’d be amazed how many politicians were in favor of it. It was totally transformational, and they never looked back.
Phaedra, do you see this?
I’ve spent lots of days on the Hill on this issue. This is just a debate between dying industries and growing industries, and the growing
industries aren’t big enough to fight back. And so, absent of a new Congress, absent of a group of people, absent of citizens standing up and saying this is what we want, I don’t believe that it’s possible. I just don’t believe it’s possible in this current Congress. And the good thing is the closer you get to people the more likely they are to pass this policy, which means that something’s off at a national level.
In general, polls taken across the country have shown the same thing, that there is tremendous support and there’s grassroots support, and that people are willing to make some sacrifices for some long-term good.
It’s not only a problem, though, in the U.S., the world has tried now for decades to agree on a climate policy worldwide because it’s not just an American problem, it is a global problem. Do we need an international treaty to truly make a difference in reducing greenhouse gases, or should we wait for an international treaty? What role does an international treaty have here?
Well, I would say we certainly don’t want to wait. I agree with Ken that some of the most interesting work is happening at the state level in the U.S. I think we’re going to need an international treaty. I’m optimistic that we’re going to get there, you know. Se can avoid the worse consequences of a destabilized climate. We can enjoy the benefits of clean energy. So I am optimistic. In terms of exactly what shape that’s going to look like, I think that’s above my pay grade.
One of the problems -- and we touched it a little bit before -- is the grid issue in this country, to truly integrate renewables into the grid, is that
one of the things that a clean energy policy has to address is the grid issue in this country in order to truly make renewables a viable option?
Yes, we do need to address the variability of wind and solar if we’re going to integrate it into the grid. But demand is also variable. And utilities have grown used to dealing with variable demand.
They have tools to deal with the variability of wind and solar, and those tools can be optimized with additional natural gas peaking units and with additional battery storage and other forms of storage.
So there are ways of dealing with the variability, and those come as we grow the deployment of solar above some level where it’s at this point not visible, say, at the utility.
When we come back, what are American citizens doing to bring new technologies to the forefront?
[TEXT: COMING UP: GRASSROOTS ENERGY]
[SEGMENT 5, TRT: 7:46]
We are back at “Changing Planet,” our town hall on clean energy at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Planet Forward, a project of the Center for Innovative Media here at GW, ran a contest for videos on clean energy innovations and got some truly creative ideas from universities across the country. Here’s the winner, two professors from the University of Texas at Austin. They have come up with an unusual biofuel, a strain of bacteria that uses sunlight to produce ethanol.
DAVID NOBLES, UT AUSTIN [IN CLIP]:
You can take sugars and you can give it yeast and they will ferment it, and you get ethanol. The thing we’re concerned with is where are the sugars coming from”
MALCOLM BROWN, UT-AUSTIN [IN CLIP]:
This slide shows the area required to produce about two hundred and ten billion gallons of ethanol each year in the United States. For corn, you could see if it’s more than eight hundred thousand square miles. For switchgrass it is quite a bit less, it’s about two hundred and thirty-four thousand square miles. If we use cyanobacteria here, you would require an area of only about five thousand square miles.
DAVID NOBLES, UT AUSTIN [IN CLIP]:
And it’s energy intensive to grow corn, it requires pesticides. It requires a lot of fertilizers. Such that, you know, the energy input is one, you only get 1.3 out.
DAVID NOBLES, UT AUSTIN [IN CLIP]:
Cyanobacteria are bacteria that are able to do photosynthesis in the same way that the plants do photosynthesis. You take carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and water, and you combine sunlight with that, and they are able to use the sun’s energy to make sugars just like plants do. We can move away from, you know, very valuable agricultural lands and put this on non-arable desert sorts of lands and grow them in salt water.
MALCOLM BROWN, UT-AUSTIN [IN CLIP]:
Global warming really means more CO2 that’s being put in the atmosphere mostly by human activities over these millions of
generations. Now we have a chance to suck some of that back out using microorganisms that are very efficient in fixing CO2 into biofuels as well as into biomass.
How much of an impact has the average citizen had on the clean energy movement? Phaedra, what do you think?
You know, I have to say I’m incredibly inspired by what’s happening in communities across this country. We just had a discussion, that change is it happening at a national level, which mean it’s only happening at state and local areas. And we see things from people who are planting open gardens and creating new forms of food for folks, to thinking about how to have clean water.
The community garden, it’s allowing me to grow these good healthy foods at a fraction of the cost. Not only that, again, not only that healthy foods are a shortage. When you do find healthy food, it’s so expensive that a lot of us low-income families cannot afford it.
PEOPLE UNITED FOR SUSTAINABLE HOUSING:
Training, you know, young men and women from the neighborhood in green construction skills, which we see to be kind of a key component of the Green Development Zone.
We’re learning about solar power, geothermal, how to insulate your house, how to make it net-zero. And when I got out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And like, school’s not for everybody. And these green jobs can help people like me that like to work with their hands.
Before I got the AmeriCorps job, my friend passed away. And I think that this was my sign to actually get a job. So I could be laying with him right now. And I get to drive down Winter, that I live a couple blocks down, and see something that I’m actually building and creating with my own eyes.
And so, you know, I think that the good part about the failure of our, the national leaders to act, is that there’s incredible innovation at local levels. And that this is a revolution that will be led by people in communities.
Chris, can innovation happen from the bottom up?
I think so. I think we’re seeing a lot of collaboration in small groups. I once saw a TED technology design presentation on the development of Apple computers and sort of the way that that emerge from a small group of curious people. And I think we’re seeing that around the country in different ways.
Tim, what do you think?
At the Pew Center we have this program called “Make an Impact,” and it’s a partnership with our Alcoa, Bank of America, and Entergy, three of the companies that we work closely with, and it’s an employee engagement program.
KATIE MANDES, Pew Center on Global Climate Change [IN CLIP]:
The Make an Impact program is really a program that is designed to empower and educate individuals about their own energy use at home.
CHUCK STRUNK, ALCOA EMPLOYEE [IN CLIP]:
You know the carbon footprint that each individual makes – not just companies, but individuals -- possibly ways that we’re able to make an impact in our homes, our communities, our schools, churches – just other people that we’re able to contact and show them the calculator and let them go through their house and see if there’s any way they can save energy on their footprint as well.
And it’s going out and very engaging the huge workforce that’s out there. Energy efficiency in folks home making it a competition between folks at different facilities. And so, you know, and I think you see a real response from folks, and efficiency is one of those things that everybody can participate in.
Do you think we really see with something much like we saw on the high tech industry where it was, two guys in a garage created Hewlett Packard, a couple of guys in a dorm room who create Google, is this how we are going to see the innovations in clean energy come about?
My experience is that clean energy requires a critical mass of good scientists and good engineers, and it’s more like a multiyear project than it in something where you are harnessing software or the internet to do something over in cyberspace. So it has somewhat of a different paradigm than the internet. But I think that still innovation – does happen with people. And people are the inspiration that leads to the creativity. So I think that there still going to be the people who are the spark plugs of the future.
This is going to be a people-led change rather than a government-led change, is what I think I’m hearing you say.
I might say that these are that the people are the laboratories, but the scale will only happen when there’s significant government investment and policy. So they are going to create the models, but we will absolutely need significant federal commitment to make it actually a reality.
You know, you need the government to provide policy that helps to push these technologies. And you need industry to innovate. And you need consumers to buy it. So there has to be demand but there, you know, that there also has to be a supply. And so, until consumers are demanding green power, clean power and the government really gets policy in this country to push that into the marketplace, I think that price parity probably is going to be an issue.
Thank you. We stared this program, we both survey of the audience. And when we come back we’re going to see if there folks up here have changed the minds out there.
[TEXT: COMING UP: WHAT WOULD YOU DO?]
[SEGMENT 6, TRT: 2:46]
Welcome back, and thanks for joining us on Changing Planet. We’re going to ask the audience here at George Washington University whether this program has changed their minds about clean energy.
So you all have these clickers in your hands. They have been provided to us by Turning Technologies. And we are going to be able to see your answers instantly. So here we go.
“How important do you consider clean energy as an issue?” “Urgent.” “Very important.” “Somewhat important.” “Not important.”
Seventy-six percent considers clean energy important.
“Would you be willing to pay more for electricity produced using clean energy sources?” You have three choices there. “Yes,” “No,” and “Don’t Know.”
And we have a winner: “Yes.” Seventy-eight percent of the audience would be willing to pay more for electricity produced using clean energy sources.
The next question is, “Would you object to seeing a wind turbine in your neighborhood?”
Eighty-five percent say “No.” Clearly, you didn’t live along Nantucket Sound in Cape Cod.
“Would you be willing to buy solar panels on your house?”
Eighty-nine percent said “Yes.”
The next question: “Would you pay an extra dollar per gallon of gas to support clean energy?”
Fifty-four percent. This gets less support. Would you, it’s pretty hard when gas is already at four dollars a gallon, isn’t it, to think about paying
So we changed a few minds today, but clearly, there’s a lot of work to be done, because clean energy is not an easy sale, certainly not in this country.
Thank you very much for joining us for this Town Hall, “Changing Planet.” We would like to thank our partners the National Science Foundation, Discover Magazine and Planet Forward.
Please visit our website nbclearn.com, NSF.gov, discovermagazine.com, planetforward.org.
And to get involved in research projects that help the planet, you can go to scienceforcitizens.net
I’m Anne Thompson -- thank you.