The Bipartisan Air You Breathe

I am in Washington today for meetings. The weather is alright--it’s raining, but warm, probably in the mid-fifties. The air is harder to read, however. As I walked along the sidewalk, I couldn’t tell if I was breathing Republican air or Democratic air.

There is no difference of course, but that is not always clear in an election cycle. Yesterday's New York Times had an article that divvied up some of the hot-button campaign issues: restricting immigration for the Republicans, avoiding war in Iran for the Democrats. The environment got tallied on the Democratic side--the fourth issue on the list.

But the truth is many (if not most) Republicans also care about the realities hidden behind the word “environment” --clean air, safe drinking water, parks to enjoy with their children. You don’t need to be a card carrying member of a certain party to be concerned about the pollutants that trigger your child’s asthma attacks.

The biggest overlap between Democrats and Republicans is their shared concern about the economy and jobs. Well, the 21st century is presenting us with an unprecedented opportunity to restore the environment and create new jobs at the same time: the green tech boom.

Tom Friedman of the New York Times has been very eloquent about this topic. He recently spoke at NRDC’s Board Retreat in Santa Fe, and he brought a refreshing sense of optimism and possibility. He believes that reducing global warming pollution will unleash massive business opportunities and generate thousands of jobs. Whether it is training people from the inner city to build solar panels or hiring software analysts to do energy audits--work that Friedman reminds us is being outsourced to India now--America has the chance to jumpstart large-scale economic growth.

Entrepreneurs interested in the environment get this--groups like the Apollo Alliance, Powershift, and NRDC’s sister organization, E2. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gets this. He calls green tech California’s next gold rush. And the venture capitalists who supported his global warming law get this too.

The question is do our representatives in Washington get it. Do the presidential candidates--from both parties--get it? Do they realize that good jobs--and clean air--don’t follow party lines? If our leaders don't understand this, we need to remind them.