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Neil Wagner

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Capitalists and Environmentalists Agree: Green Innovation Rocks

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 3:56 pm

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Frances Beinecke and Robert Lutz recently teamed up to write an op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune. That might not sound so remarkable until you consider the fact that Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Lutz is the former vice chairman of General Motors.

But Beinecke, a board member of several environmental organizations, and Lutz, who has called global warming "a crock," are united behind a common vision: seeing America's leaders promote green innovation as a means to put U.S. automakers back on top while reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil.

These two new BFFs aren't the only ones touting the virtues of green technology. As "What on Earth" has noted previously, business heavyweights like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Ted Turner see lots of green in Green. Big shooters like Google, Intel, IBM, General Motors, The Coca Cola Company, and Johnson & Johnson are either investing directly investing in green innovation, or are patronizing companies that do.

Not surprisingly, Beinecke and Lutz singled out the Chevy Volt as a symbol of our country's lack of commitment to eco-innovation. The Volt has received a host of accolades: Motor Trend Car of the Year; MotorWeek Driver's Choice Best of the Year; Consumer Reports #1 in Owner Satisfaction; Car and Driver 10 Best; and the list goes on.

And yet, it is being treated as a political punching bag. Given its green technology, its government-bailed-out lineage, and several battery fires during crash tests, politicians and conservative pundits have called the Volt an "exploding Obamamobile," and "Obama-mandated death traps." The bashing from the right has been relentless -- despite the fact that both the Volt and GM's bailout were initiated during a Republican president's term, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's declaration that it did not identify a safety defect in the Volt.

Introducing a new product -- especially one with a high price tag and new technology -- is no sure bet. There are always obstacles to overcome. But at a time when the auto industry, the economy, and the climate we inhabit could all use this kind of help, unfounded vilification is not a productive part of the conversation. Poor sales have led the automaker to initiate layoffs, and impose an extended summer break on its employees in order to manage inventory.

But there have been some positive developments recently. GM has declared it is going to conduct business under the assumption that climate change is real, and Fox News (typically critical of the Volt) recently aired an interview in which Lee Spieckerman, conservative CEO of Spieckerman Media, debunked the network's own misinformation and declared the Volt "an anti-terrorist weapon," and "the safest car on the road."

Hey, if major corporations, climate-denying vice chairmen, and Fox News can all wrap their arms around green technology, maybe our environment has a chance after all.

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