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Global warming a potential boon?

BY SIMEON TALLEY | SEPTEMBER 24, 2009 7:20 AM

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We are having the wrong public debate about global warming — and we are running out of time to get it right.

It’s important to discuss carbon caps and taxes or other mitigation strategies, but a good chunk of the population views these as restrictive and burdensome. We miss a larger and more affirmative point if we only have that discussion.

Rather, we should emphasize that by tackling global warming, we can create lots of jobs and spur a ton of innovation. In a time of tremendous economic uncertainty, our path forward lies in getting serious about addressing global warming and creating a clean-energy economy.

This generation is generally more supportive of efforts to address climate change, and we’ve become increasingly engaged and creative in addressing climate change. From eco-cabs to eco-fashion, from sustainability to educational efforts, young people are way out in front on this issue. The UI Office of Sustainability is a testament to that. Its creation, at least in part, is due to the increase in interest and demand among students.

Young people benefit when we view global warming not only as a moral challenge but as an economic imperative. In many urban communities, young people are being put to work “greening the block” by retrofitting homes and planting gardens. College students at universities are flocking to environmental engineering and sustainability programs to lend their intellectual and creative talents to the issue. Just this fall, the UI added a certificate program aimed at preparing students for careers in sustainability and research.

A young person’s interest in addressing global warming should extend beyond environmental activism. We have an opportunity to create quality jobs and opportunities when students graduate and into the future. We have an opportunity to fundamentally transform our economy.

Ten to 15, maybe 20 years ago, if we had let concerns about the cost of laying fiber-optic cables slow down advances in telecommunications and the Internet, our world would have been very different today. We are at a similar moment where if we don’t see the larger picture and think big about global warming, we will have missed out.

President Obama is in New York City this week for the U.N. General Assembly meeting and in Pittsburgh for another G-20 summit. Climate change is high on the agenda, and many are looking to the United States to show some leadership on the issue. While Obama is staunchly committed to addressing climate change, it remains to be seen whether he can persuade the Senate to pass the climate-change bill that’s languishing in committee.

Obama recognizes that we have a responsibility to the world to reduce our carbon emissions. But I hope he also recognizes that he must put forth as much effort in getting domestic climate-change negotiations on track as he has put forth on health-care reform. I believe that we need health-care reform now. But I believe even more that we need the US to enact a strong system that begins to limit our carbon emissions.

In doing that, the case needs to be made that we can solve our climate challenge and create jobs.

That by investing in clean-energy technology, we’ll strengthen the American economy and create opportunities for young people, blue-collar workers, and the unemployed. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, Democrat or Republican, living in Decorah or Chicago, we’ll all share in the benefits.


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