Green – It’s bigger than you think

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By Bernie Niemeier

Just a few years ago, the adjective “green” conjured up a batch of politically correct images: Europe’s Green Party, Greenpeace making the world safe for baby seals, Earth Day and redwood-climbing Californians.

Today’s picture is quite different.  Green has gone mainstream.  Businesses are increasingly comfortable with environmentally friendly ideas.  This makes both political and economic sense.

As a baby boomer, it’s hard not to see generational impacts in most trends.  Business leaders who came of age in the ‘60s now have the chance to approve sustainable design features for new corporate structures.

At the same time, a new generation of employees expects global stewardship.

Municipal recycling programs are widespread.  Aluminum recycling is replacing bauxite mining.

It seems like only months ago that global warming was debatable. Now it’s accepted as fact.  In some countries, factory emissions are already controlled by marketable carbon exchange permits.

Environmentally sustainable business practices are common supply-chain requirements.  In a global economy, these trends already affect Virginia.

What’s missing in the dialogue?  It’s the same thing most often missing in partisan politics — a middle ground of compromise and collaboration.

Sustainable practices don’t mean going back to living around the campfire.  Parts of the Third World are already largely deforested without experiencing the conveniences of modern living.  Nor do sustainable practices mean disregarding environmental impacts.  Problems that are here now cannot be abated by leaving them for future generations.

Take, for example, nuclear energy.  Many environmentalists see nuclear power as the ultimate evil.  Despite a near -perfect safety record in this country (the Three-Mile Island accident in 1979 was entirely contained within the facility), there have been no new nuclear construction permits issued in the U.S. for more than 30 years.  Today, 
there are seven applications on file for new reactors, including one in Virginia.

Virginia’s existing nuclear facilities provide 29 percent of the state’s electrical energy. That’s more than most people realize, and it’s being done with technology and a capital infrastructure that is more than 30 years old.  New plants will be even safer and built to more efficient standards.

Nuclear waste disposal, of course, remains a political hot potato for the nuclear industry. Meanwhile, carbon emissions from the majority of other power sources, not to mention automobiles, go largely uncaptured. They do far more harm than nuclear, which is about as close as science has been able to bring us to clean energy.

Coal is another example.  Though coal is largely vilified as the major source of greenhouse emissions, newer and cleaner technologies, such as coal-to-liquid and carbon sequestration, hold great promise.

It is wrong to rule out nuclear and clean-coal technologies.  The U.S. military is the world’s largest consumer of foreign oil. (What does that mean for our international security?)

Aviation fuel alone accounts for 58 percent of the Department of Defense’s total energy cost.  The U.S. Air Force has committed to sourcing 50 percent of its continental U.S. fuel from coal-to-liquid blends by 2016.

If the world’s largest oil consumer has this level of commitment, surely there are business opportunities in Virginia to help supply clean-energy solutions.

States such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio are making major investments in clean-energy development.  Virginia should follow their example.

So what does it mean to be green?  We are well past the days of tree-hugging generalizations.

Like most complex problems, environmental solutions make strange bedfellows.  Energy and environmental lobbyists need to work together.  Government, the military, universities, technologists and businesses all stand to benefit from being partners in the creation of new solutions.

Green is a business opportunity for Virginia that can benefit many sectors of our economy.  It’s bigger than you think. 

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