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Bill Richardson: We Need an “Arab Spring” for the Environment

| Wednesday January 18th, 2012 | 3 Comments

From right to left: Brian Merchant (TreeHugger), Bill Richardson, Nick Aster & Tim Hurst (LiveOakMedia)

Former Energy Secretary and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has spent the last few days in Abu Dhabi at the World Future Energy Summit discussing renewable energy and sustainability issues with world leaders and luckily for us, a few bloggers.

Our conversation this morning was a mostly optimistic look at the inevitability of renewable energy’s rise to dominance – and the various roadblocks and catalysts along the way.   We all admired, in particular, the wisdom that the United Arab Emirates has had with regards to prioritizing r&d in renewable energy despite being overflowing with fossil fuel wealth.  By hosting massive conferences on the subject and by creating renewable energy companies like Masdar, the UAE has made a very skillful move to become a  center of renewable energy innovation.   Even in the US, increased costs, political instability, price fluctuations, and a growing environmental consciousness indicate that fossil fuels’ singular dominance will eventually wane, despite our  rather meek political commitment to the fact.

That’s not news to anyone reading TriplePundit, so I asked the Governor what kind of role government can and should play in moving things along.

Primarily, Richardson says government ought to be a catalyst, working in conjunction with the private sector to advance a clean energy agenda through taxes, incentives, and investments. Lest that mean taking sides in the matter, at the very least the system of subsidies and favorable government treatment for fossil fuels should be done away with to help level the playing field.  But at the end of the day, some sort of mandate for clean energy is required at both the state and federal level to get things moving forward.  Doing so, says Richardson, would mean exactly the kind of economic growth and job creation the US has been longing for.

The second thing that’s needed to raise awareness both culturally and politically is the rise of youthful voices across social media.  “I want an Arab Spring for the environment”, he says.  By this, he implied not just a call for renewable energy, but call for a greater appreciation at a national level for the merits of environmental consciousness – coupled with the realization that such appreciation actually means growth and jobs in the renewables sector, among entrepreneurs and elsewhere.

Is this possible?

If you’ve looked at Wikipedia or Reddit in the last 24 hours you may have noticed that they, among many other websites, are currently “blacked out” to encourage Americans to contact congress to halt the passage of the SOPA and PIPA acts (misguided attempts to curtail online piracy).   By all accounts the plan is working – the President has acted to water down the legislation and some senators are backing off their prior endorsements.

Although this example is not directly related to energy or the environment, it shows how quickly cohesive action can be taken by engaged online voices on critical issues and how (hopefully) influential they can be.  What’s stopping the folks at Wikipedia, Reddit and elsewhere from putting the heat on Washington with regards to clean energy and building a sustainably minded economy?

It obviously helps to have the threat of calamity at one’s doorstep, but steady pressure from engaged citizens and companies can have a progressive effect.  At any rate, I hope to play a roll.  Will you?

* Ed note: Travel to Abu Dhabi for 3p was covered by Masdar


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  • Charles Oppenheimer

    Cool – I’ve heard Bill Richardson call for a Manhattan Project for energy too, glad to see you caught up with him in Nick.

  • Rocketman

    What about an “Arab Spring” for honest politicians Richardson? 

  • cbs

    As Energy Secretary and during the NY blackouts, Mr. Richarson stated the following: ” We need to get the utilies to stop loading the system”.   This displays a keen sense of how the Grid and power work and his complete foolishness !   Good thing he is ‘one of the boys’  isn’t it ?