What Do We Want to Stimulate?

Five years ago, the only conversations I had about global warming were with other environmentalists. Now I spend most of my time talking about climate change with CEOs from Fortune 500 companies. Increasingly, they realize that confronting global warming presents financial opportunities.


That’s why the furor in the blogosphere last week about President Clinton, global warming, and the economy was so off base--as the Times’ Andy Revkin pointed out.


When Clinton was misquoted on a blog post by an ABC News reporter implying that curbing global warming would require an economic slowdown, the blogosphere lit up with I-told-you-so’s from the Republican National Committee, the Cato Institute, and various global warming deniers.


The thing is they were wrong on two counts: 1) President Clinton did not say what they thought he said. And 2) according to analysts ranging from McKinsey & Company to the EPA, tackling global warming will not hurt the economy.


Yes, the economy is in turmoil right now. I was in a meeting with a CEO from one of the top financial houses on Friday, and he for one thought this economic black cloud would hover for at least nine months.


Everyone is talking about how the best stimulus package to hoist us out of this situation. But the question is: what do we want to stimulate?


Think of the real estate sector, struggling in the wake of the mortgage crisis. If we passed a suite of incentives that encouraged owners to invest in energy-saving appliances, furnaces, and lighting and efficient retrofitting, we could revive an ailing industry, create construction and engineering jobs in America, and scale-up the single most cost-effective global warming solutions available: energy efficiency. All at the same time.


But regardless our economic health at this moment, America over the next 20 years will still invest about $3 trillion in energy infrastructure. We can redirect that capital away from polluting technologies that dates back to the 19th and early 20th centuries and into clean, sustainable energy solutions.


And we can do this while enjoying uninterrupted growth in our economy and standard of living year-after-year as currently projected. That’s the real news about global warming and the economy.