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These Students Remind Us What We Can Do -- and Rio+20 Reminds Us What We Must Do

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While the environmentalists and the Olympic planners in London argue over which shade of green is more valuable -- environmental green or greenbacks, that is, whether to accept or reject Dow and BP's sponsorships -- the finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy's National Business Plan Competition showed us where we really need to focus: on the innovative solutions. They showed us what we can do.

Nearly 300 teams of university students from across the U.S. competed in six regional competitions, culminating in a Washington, D.C. conference with top potential investors, advisors and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu.

At the same time, the Rio+20 Environmental Summit is gearing up, showcasing advanced efforts toward a sustainable planet. For example, Aneri Patel of the U.N. Foundation's Sustainable Energy for All initiative reminded us on my radio show, Green Connections Radio™, last week that 1.3 billion people around the world have no access to electricity. That's more than one in seven people. Look around your local Starbucks, your office, or your classroom and imagine one of every six or seven people you're looking at not having electricity.

This is truly powerlessness on many levels -- without electrical power they have no political power or economic power to change their plight. She talked about an Indian village's socioeconomic changes, as women built and sold solar lights, and in the process built thriving businesses-seizing leadership power that had been denied them by their husbands. They illuminate what we must do.

"The point of Rio+20 is to talk about... advancing the green economy," said Kate Gordon, director of Advanced Energy and Sustainability at the Center for the Next Generation, on my radio show also last week. She added, "We're the only country that does it entirely at the state level and entirely piecemeal, except for a couple of programs in the Recovery Act that we're trying to hold onto. So Rio, to me, is... where we look around and we realize how far behind we are."

One of those programs in the Recovery Act is sponsorship for this National Business Plan Competition.

So, while Olympic organizers and environmentalists argue over who should be left out of the green economy tent, fortunately there are many great minds doing the yeoman's work -- in universities, labs, tech centers and fields -- required to actually bring us into a clean energy economy. Just check out these talented university students with breakthrough technologies in the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition.

We need all hands on deck for this one: the budding entrepreneurs and the mature companies, all industries, state governments and national ones too, academia and think tanks/NGO's and all nations.

Companies like Dow and BP are hugely important to keep in the fold, because (a) they have enormous talent and resources to put into solving the challenges; (b) their products are part of the problem and need to be cleaned up; (c) they have a financial investment in finding these solutions; and (d) we reap the benefits of their turning their respective "Titanics away from our precious icebergs." Besides, positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement.

As Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Stockholm, Sweden earlier this month at an event for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. "(We) know we cannot solve this crisis without the active cooperation and, indeed, the leadership of the private sector, particularly oil and gas companies, makers of diesel trucks, green tech companies that can help turn methane from landfills into clean energy."

We need everyone in this effort, especially the companies that create those pollutants in the first place. Get over your power struggles and focus on true power -- clean power for everyone on the planet.

Get creative, and get to work.

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