America the Schizoid?

06/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Carl Pope Former executive director and chairman, Sierra Club

The contradictions that are slowing down our progress towards a green-energy recovery and climate recovery were on full display last week in our nation's capitol. On the one hand, you had the Southern Company, its polluter allies among power companies, and the ultimate parties with an interest in clinging to the past (Big Oil and Coal) successfully forcing major weakening provisions into the House Commerce Committee's version of climate legislation, and protesting loudly that cutting even 17 percent of our greenhouse pollution in 11 years would be a bridge too far.

But while Congress was mired in a debate about the past vs. the future, the Sierra Club's first Climate Recovery Symposium featured the rest of America eagerly analyzing the urgency -- the opportunity -- and the means, of doing it much, much faster.

We had giants in the field of biology like Donald Kennedy and Tom Lovejoy -- chair and co-chair of the Club's Climate Recovery Partnership, which sponsored the Symposium -- again laying out the impact of unchecked climate deterioration on the ecosystems on which human beings depend. Dr. John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, laid out his vision for how to creatively combine solar and wind power to make renewable electricity truly "dispatchable," and a group of a half dozen venture capitalists in the audience grilled him intently on the technical arcana of the idea. (They concluded it made sense.) Kleiner Perkins partner John Gage, GridPoint CEO Peter Corsell, Bluewater Wind's Peter Mandelstam, and Sunpower CTO Tom Dinwoodie debated how best to combine entrepreneurship, grass-roots advocacy, and public-private partnerships to rush clean, low-carbon energy sources to market. Lovejoy and John Moussouris of the VenEarth Group showed how by restoring ecosystems we can actually reduce the CO2 overload in the atmosphere and truly restore the climate -- Moussouris pointed out that just using biomass to create a small quantity of charcoal -- less than an inch -- to mix with every acre of the world's farmlands would actually reduce atmospheric CO2 by 100 ppm -- restoring it to preindustrial concentrations.

No, we didn't ignore the politics. We heard from the Obama administration (EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson). Speakers as diverse as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode warned that unless the American people and the Obama administration demand that Congress break with the energy sources of the past, the green economic recovery and the hope of a healthy climate may be strangled in the cradle.

But we spent most of our time learning how much fun this could be -- maybe Congress should have a similar session!