Talking Innovation at the Clinton Global Initiative
The unique ways we can harness innovation for sustainable development in the 21st century was the topic for the third major session at the Clinton Global Initiative. The dominant theme, unsurprisingly, was the use of innovation to emerge from various crises--of the economic, health, and, yes, climate variety. Al Gore was on hand to issue another call to action on climate, and he revealed the surprising innovation he'd most like to see develop next. In the introduction to the talks, a CGI producer noted that the nature and implementation of innovation must necessarily change to meet the challenges of the climate crisis. Instead of the incremental, or continuous innovation, that we're mostly engaging in right now, we're going to need "disruptive innovation" that replaces the 'base of the pyramid'. Good example: we're going to need an energy economy that knocks coal-fired power plants out of the picture, and replaces them with wind, solar, and so on.
"We Have All the Tools We Need to Solve 3 or 4 Climate Crises"
In the discussions, Al Gore was first to speak. Of course, he used the opportunity to draw attention to climate change. He was vehement and animated, perhaps inspired by the many important climate-themed events going on this week in the US. Since the topic was innovation, Gore discussed the recent work he's done assessing various solutions to the climate problem. Potential solutions were rooted in subjects as diverse as forestry and neurology, he said. And his conclusion?
"We have all the tools we need to solve 3 or 4 climate crises--but we only need to solve one," he said. What we're lacking is political will. Gore went on to discuss Copenhagen, saying, "it's very important we get a deal - not necessarily that the deal be perfect and include everything." He used the analogy to the treaty enacted to save the planet's ozone to point out that a treaty need not be perfect to solve a global crisis.
Despite that, Gore said Copenhagen should be as large and as effective as possible, and that the US must play a crucial role--and that passing climate legislation would be a much needed bargaining tool. At one point he urged the influential audience, which was comprised of CEOs, heads of state from around the world, and other big movers, to use their personal relationships to push Congress to pass climate legislation.
To which the moderator, an editor at the Economist, quipped, "Maybe there should be another prize for someone who can get Congress to operate efficiently."
Gore's Dream Innovation
The moderator asked the panelists (which included Nobel Laureate microfinance guru Muhammad Yunus) which innovation they'd most like to see emerge next. And the innovation Gore would most like to see? The emergence of sustainable capitalism, he said. Which would need to include placing an adequate cost on externalities, the like emissions generated from burning coal and the byproducts of manufacturing. As it is, some commodities and processes (coal, oil) are far too cheap--their price doesn't factor in the pollution and contamination they create. The companies that trade and use them dodge the price tag of environmental messes that other people must clean up, and the ill health effects others must pay to remedy.
And of course, sustainable capitalism means putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions--whether it's through a tax or a market based mechanism.
Sustainable capitalism. Sounds nice, doesn't it?