The big news from the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative was Richard Branson’s commitment to donate ALL profits for the next 10 years from his various companies (Virgin Airways et al.) to the development of clean energy sources. That is projected to be about $3 billion or so. As Bill Clinton said, “That’s serious money.” (Read the NYTimes article)
Overshadowed was the announcement by Clinton that he and several other conference attendees are setting up an investment fund (The Green Fund) which will raise $1 billion for the development of renewable energy sources. Add it up, and these two private efforts will outspend the U.S. Government’s Department of Transportation on clean energy research.
The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) brings together an impressive array of global political and business leaders for the purpose of addressing some of the world’s pressing problems, including energy and climate change. Besides generating practical ideas for initiating change, attendees are required to make financial or other commitments to help implement those ideas. There’s definitely an atmosphere of competitive philanthropy about the sessions, with major commitments announced and commitment documents signed with much fanfare.
Whatever works, I say, and good for all of them. Besides the $4 billion plus raised to combat global warming, another $3 billion or so was raised to help in the battles against poverty, disease and religious/ethnic conflict.
I happened upon CGI’s web site just in time to listen to Bill Clinton’s closing address. First, I really miss having a president who can talk intelligently off-the-cuff about important issues in plain English. Second, it was pretty uplifting to see major business leaders marching up to the dais to make commitments in the fight against global warming. Most commitments, unlike the well-reported Branson donation, were practical programs of action.
One example: WalMart committed to substantially reducing the amount of packaging used in the products it sells. Such reductions contribute to the fight against global warming by (a) reducing the number of trees cut down to produce the paper parts, (b) reducing fossil fuels used to make the plastics specifically and the energy used to make the packaging generally, (c) reducing the fuel used to transport goods by reducing their size, and (d) reducing the waste processing afterwards. As one step, they will begin a program of rewarding suppliers for minimizing packaging. If their program is successful, they estimate that, by 2013, they will have avoided over 600,000 metrics tons of CO2 emissions and taken over 200,000 plus trucks off the highways per year.
In another, the Green Building Council announced a joint venture with Newland Communitiesto launch a $250,000 program to education consumers about the virtues and value of building green.
But beyond the occasional monster effort were hundreds of smaller ones that definitely add up, many in subtle but long-lasting ways. In encouraging potential contributors to realize that even small scale efforts can have a big impact, Clinton related how he and George Bush Sr. caused a couple of schools in New Orleans to be rebuilt (post-Katrina) using green-building standards. Those kids will be learning about environmental stewardship every single day, said Clinton, “and they’ll take that with them wherever they go.”