Highlights from the 1st day of the Clinton Global Initiative

Former President Bill Clinton seemed happy to be in his role of statesman again on the first day of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) - an event which gathers government leaders, business leaders, rock stars, and sports heroes who work together to implement solutions to world problems. The attendees have demonstrated leadership in one of the 4 CGI target areas: global health, education, energy & climate, and poverty alleviation. Clinton jovially warmed up the crowd by thanking them for braving busy, mid-day New York City traffic, but then quickly grew more somber as he stressed that we are facing disasters of all kinds: hurricanes, earthquakes, financial quakes, energy and food price hikes, and climate change.
In March 2008 the Clinton Global Initiative started up at universities and later this year the first CGI outside of the U.S. will take place in Hong Kong. For people who can't attend in person, Clinton encouraged them to go to the website- www.mycommittment.org. With forceful optimism, Clinton said he is wagering philanthropy will become more important during this time of economic crisis, and that people will feel more compelled to donate as government is less able to give a helping hand (aside from the bailout).

Although I have a tendency to zone out when speaker's stray from strictly-defined environmental topics, as Clinton called on various governmental and business leaders to announce upcoming highlighted initiatives, I was struck with how interrelated the four areas of CGI really are.

Climate change is, of course, exacerbated by increases in world population, and overpopulation and resource use in developing countries are intricately connected to poverty and education. If every woman was in school, this would probably curb population growth, which would indirectly affect global warming. Mayor Mike Bloomberg's anti-tobacco initiatives are public health initiatives, but also air quality initiatives.

Coca Cola and the Environment
E. Neville Isdell, the Chairman of the Board for Directors of the Coca-Cola Company, noted that in order to create soft drinks, a company needs clean water. Isdell is focused on treating Coke's wastewater and returning it back to nature in a form that can support aquatic life. He said that the goal should be to be "water neutral", and that companies should look at their water footprints in addition to their carbon footprints. There is enough water, just not enough clean water.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore together again
Former President Clinton introduced former Vice President Al Gore, by saying that had Gore become "leader of the band" Clinton believes investment would have been fueled into clean energy as well as into the housing market, and we might have averted both the economic and climate crises. Given the current economic climate (no pun intended) Clinton asked Gore what we can afford to do about climate change?

Gore addressed the "sudden collapse of an assumption" that had made up this economic crisis. The nation's money was tied up in subprime-loans, and we didn't realize they were worthless. Currently, he said, a lot of our businesses are tied up in carbon, but we are likewise not yet realizing the risk. Our water supply is dependent on ice melting. A University of Tel Aviv study showed that when temperatures rise even by 1 degree, more lightning occurs, causing wildfires in places like California.

We NEED, Gore exhorted us, to stop burning coal, and to stop hearing about "clean coal." "Clean coal" is an oxymoron; Gore compared it to "healthy cigarettes". We need an energy bailout, and we need to switch from destroying the planet to creating a new energy infrastructure. Renewables are available today, he said, they are not a myth, and we need a grid in the US.

The coal people, he continued, as with the Wall Street crew who created this current mess, focus on the short term, when we need instead to be looking at the long term. The world is interconnected and increasing carbon anywhere is a risk to humans everywhere. Meanwhile, Congress is lifting a moratorium on oil shale. "This," said the former Vice President, "is utter insanity." Gore is clearly outraged that the entrenched carbon lobby is overwhelming free debate.

We need, Al said, to modernize the grid, which he called the "electra-net", and to create a
"smart" grid. And while we are at it, Gore wants us to lay down more robust broadband at the same time so the US is not behind on the information superhighway. But the single most important thing is to put a price on carbon and "tax what we burn—not what we earn".

If, Gore said, you are a carbon company and are telling your shareholders that global warming is not a big deal—then, you should be convicted for stock fraud. State Attorney Generals, he said, should be taking action against these people. And, he asked, what if you are young and feel that "nothing is happening" as new coal plants just keep being built? Then, Gore suggested, now might be the time for civil disobedience. Thrilling stuff!

More on Clinton Global Initiative
Bill Clinton Speaks with Bloggers Night Before CGI
Clinton Global Initiative 2007 Highlights
More on Coca Cola and Water
S.E.E.ing Change on Water Sustainability
Coca Cola's Life Saving Compartment?
More on Al Gore
Al Gore and his Renewable Energy Plan
Al Gore's Sequel to An Inconvenient Truth
Al Gore's Climate Change Ad Campaign

Tags: Al Gore | Bill Clinton | Clinton Global Initiative | Coal | New York City