Robert Redford Plugs the Green Economy

Robert Redford is an actor, director and longtime trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.  I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2001, when I arranged a Capitol Hill press conference featuring him during our successful fight to safeguard Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from legislative efforts to open it to oil drilling.  Let me tell you, that was the best-attended presser I've ever seen, with politicians, Hill staffers and press all cramming into the room to get a glimpse of the Hollywood legend in their midst.

(Photo: AP)

In the brief time I spent with Redford, three things struck me about him: 1) he is truly passionate about environmental protection and lives by this ethic; 2) he is incredibly intelligent and well-spoken on the issues; 3) he is a genuinely warm and friendly person.

I am one of countless people who love his movies -- my personal favorite is "Jeremia Johnson" -- and I also admire his life-long commitment to making the world a better place for us all.  That's why I was so pleased to read his recent opinion piece in Politico.  In it he urges America to be a leader in the green economy that is dawning. 

He correctly notes that "[i]f we seize this opportunity, we can put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work building a safer, cleaner future for our children.  If we do not, others will dominate the global marketplace for clean energy."  He also observes that:

People of the “greatest generation” grew up envisioning America as a leader.  They rallied as a nation to help defeat fascism in World War II and used their own native resourcefulness to promote advances in aeronautics, medicine and information technology.  But I have watched with growing alarm as we have let our early innovations in clean energy slip away.

It should come as a surprise to no one that I wholeheartedly share his view that we are faced with a golden opportunity right now.  As he puts it:

Now we have a president who wants to confront global warming, a clean energy and climate bill that has passed the House and senators who are considering their own version of the bill.  We even have giant energy companies — from California’s PG&E to the Southeast’s Duke Energy — that believe this kind of clean energy legislation is good for business.  And we also have Americans who are hungry for a better future.  They are reeling from the economic crisis, and they are beginning to feel the blows of climate change.

I think he is absolutely right that a good start is passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation.  The bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate would set a limit on how much greenhouse gas large polluters can release.  This, in turn, would dramatically expand the market for low-carbon technologies, such as renewable power, hybrid engines and biofuels.  Of course, it would also generate jobs -- an estimated 1.7 million jobs throughout America, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts.

Redford deftly address the "naysayers who claim that shifting to clean energy will hurt our economy, which is patently ridiculous."  He points out that the experts -- from consulting gurus at McKinsey & Co. to the economoists at the Department of Energy -- say otherwise.  As he concludes:

The benefits of the green economy far outweigh the modest costs.  Think about it. We can put America at the forefront of a global market, create hundreds of thousands of jobs and protect the planet from the ravages of climate change for about 43 cents a day.

But this is about more than just economics.  This is about building a better future.  This is about our children’s inheritance. What kind of Earth will we leave them?  Will we bequeath them only photographs to learn what a glacier was or what a healthy forest looked like?  Or will we actually build the clean energy systems that will hold our natural legacy intact for generations to come?

Wow.  There you have it.  A great actor -- and a great American -- whose deep-seated love of this land and the natural resources with which we're blessed puts him in the forefront on the most important environmental issue facing our planet.