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Byron Kennard Headshot

Man Up, Environmentalists! (Here's a way to do it)

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We environmentalists have had to stomach a lot of bad political news lately. The federal government's failure to address global warming is distressing enough but even worse is the likelihood that results of the upcoming midterm election will eradicate any hopes that linger for federal action.

It used to be that Republicans - some of them anyway - were proud to carry Teddy Roosevelt's mantle. They could be counted on to join bipartisan solutions to serious environmental challenges. No more. According to the New York Times editorial board "With one exception, none of the Republicans running for the Senate -- including the 20 or so with a serious chance of winning -- accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming."

How much of this stuff can any self-respecting tree-hugger take?

Now along comes a SolveClimate story to add insult to injury. It seems that the New Hampshire Carbon Action Alliance organized a pre-election forum on climate legislation and invited all the candidates running for House and Senate seats to participate. But none of the candidates - Republican or Democratic - were willing to even attend.

What gives? New Hampshire is no bastion of reaction. In 2008, it was a solidly blue state that Obama carried by nine percentage points. And the state is not oblivious to climate change. Scientists have already documented evidence of global warming's impact on New Hampshire's skiing, maple sugar, and tourism industries.

But, as the story points out, in this election "a Democrat can barely utter the phrase 'cap and trade' without being drowned out with a counter chant of 'cap and tax.'" So it was that Democratic candidates declined to attend.

All this tells me that the game of politics is not working for the environment anymore.

Thank heaven politics is not the only game to play.

I say let's shift our focus and energies to the market, where we are quietly scoring big gains even in a bad economy. Politics may be letting us down but entrepreneurship has not. In this climate crisis a swarm of entrepreneurs have seen opportunities and they are rushing to exploit them, in the process creating many new green technological innovations.

The promise of all this innovation is breathtaking. At MIT's 2010 annual energy conference venture capitalist John Doerr predicted a coming clean energy boom that will be ten times larger than the internet boom.

There's evidence to back this up. In 2009, the U.S. small wind market (turbines with rated capacities of 100 kilowatts or less) grew by 15 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association. And according to a new report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, nearly one gigawatt of added capacity will be installed in 2010, a 114 percent increase over last year.

In the final analysis, these victories in the marketplace may well count for more than victories in the halls of Congress. And here's the icing on the cake: ultimately the force of new and growing green businesses will form a powerful constituency that restores balance and health to American politics.

This is no futuristic fantasy. It's happening now in California where green business and industry have matured to the point that they've acquired considerable political clout.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that supporters of Proposition 23, the initiative that would suspend California's landmark climate change law (AB 32), have raised $9.1 million so far. But opponents, including venture capitalists and green entrepreneurs, have raised $29.8 million. In other words, in this fight the new economy is outspending the old industrial economy 3 to 1.

When was the last time that happened?

This is why, for me, the fate of Proposition 23 is perhaps the single most portentous fight in this election. It's a pitched battle between the old industrial economy and the rising new green economy. And the new may beat the old.

According to a poll released by the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California, most California voters oppose Proposition 23 and suspending AB 32. The poll shows the Proposition trailing 48% to 32% among likely voters.

Okay, I know this story comes from California, the nation's acknowledged leader in transitioning to a green economy. But green business and industry is flourishing in many other parts of the country as well. Indeed it seems that everybody wants to get in on the act. According to the Cleantech Group, every state in the Union has now adopted some form of clean energy or climate policy designed to encourage new companies to locate in their state or to promote deployment of clean energy products.

It follows logically that as the green economy grows so will the base of political support for the environment. And so, fellow tree-huggers, here's my Election night advice for you: close your eyes, click your heels, and say three times: This too shall pass.