I Wish They All Could Be California Innovators

I recently spent the a month working out of NRDC’s California offices. I am an Easterner by birth and inclination. I feel more at home on the subway than the freeway, the Adirondack woods than the Santa Monica beach. But I am enthralled with one of California’s most appealing attributes. People there possess a spirit of innovation-especially when it comes to global warming solutions. 

This is particularly true in Silicon Valley, where last week I had dinner with Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, and other technology leaders. Schmidt said to me, “We are surrounded here by people who are innovative and looking for solutions. That is what we do, so of course we should be doing it for clean energy.” 

The sense of possibility is contagious in Silicon Valley. The engineers, the executives, and the venture capitalists are all confident they can deliver clean tech answers, because they have delivered so many solutions to our economy already. 

That is a departure from the mood in Washington, where Congress tends to focus on who will be the losers under a cap and trade system for global warming emissions instead of figuring out how to ensure our nation as a whole will win and prosper. 

Our capitol could use a dose of California can-do attitude. We have to be brave and bold in what we do to address global warming. We have to truly transform our energy economy. This is a daunting prospect that will mean redirecting millions of dollars of capital from dirty polluting energy into clean tech solutions. 

But we will not only gain a healthier climate. We will also gain jobs. The clean tech solutions being hatched by Silicon Valley firms translate into tens of thousands of jobs for architects and engineers; air conditioning contractors and solar panel installers; software designers and energy auditors. 

These are jobs that cannot be shipped offshore in businesses that pay lasting dividends to the U.S. economy through increased competitiveness and reduced dependence on energy imports. 

And at a time when the nation’s economy appears to be teetering on the brink of a recession it is doubly critical that we seize these now and for the long term. 

California is pointing the way, but even Silicon Valley’s advances in clean tech are not enough to lift our entire country. We need to nurture other regional pockets of innovation--in the wind farms of Texas, the factories in the Midwest, the labs of MIT or the software office parks of Seattle. 

Innovation after all, isn’t only a California trait. It’s as American as Ben Franklin discovering electricity. We created airplanes, cars, and computers. Now we can create more sustainable energy solutions--and the jobs that go with them.