And Then Everyone Lost Their Minds

ecosystems-0810In 2008 with our country fighting two wars in Muslim countries, Americans went to the polls and elected a young senator of mixed-race background named Barack Hussein Obama to be president over his opponent, a respected war veteran and former POW, Senator John McCain. No matter what you thought of Obama then or even now, it was a stunning moment in history. However, regardless of the unity and momentum created by Obama’s election, the economy was in a precarious place and expectations for his presidency were (unreachably) high. The IT revolution combined with automation and global outsourcing meant that formerly good-paying steel mill jobs in Pennsylvania or textile mill jobs in South Carolina were gone, and as John McCain warned us during the election, “aren’t coming back.” Still, in the heady days of early 2009, the sustainability movement was energized like never before, and that would have been the perfect time to craft and enact a big energy plan and begin, in earnest, the mighty task of converting this country to a renewable energy future, leading to the creation of tens of thousands of good jobs right out of the gates, and eventually millions of high-paying jobs.

But, alas, that did not happen. The economy sank further. Recovery was slow. Unemployment rose and fell with the seasons. You were there. You remember. And before we knew it, another election season was upon us. And then everyone lost their minds.

Over the past five years I’ve written 30 articles on the topic of sustainability and the role technology can and should play in it. However, across those 31,000 words you will only find the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” three times. Was I just assuming (hoping) anyone reading my stuff had gotten the memo about the whole global climate change thing around, say, 2006? Yes. Was I also worried I might alienate potential contributors to the sustainable tech movement if I dipped my toes too deeply into what have become the political waters of manmade global climate change? Kinda, sorta. Am I about to alienate some of those folks now? Yes, that is going to happen right now.

Guys, what is HAPPENING? How have we devolved into a state of politics where one party instantly becomes against an idea as soon as the other party is for it? So poisoned is our political climate that the frontrunner for president from one of our two great parties is talking about the “bogus” science of manmade climate change or the “hoax of global warming.” Seriously? Long gone are the days of Teddy Roosevelt, one of our greatest presidents and a proud Republican, who was chiefly responsible for establishing our national parks to help preserve America’s great natural resources for generations to come; or when Richard Nixon came together with Congress in response to public demand and established the U.S. EPA to clean up America’s water, air and land; or when George H.W. Bush heeded warnings about acid rain and signed into law the Clean Air Act, which introduced and used to great effect the conservative idea of “cap and trade.” Those guys probably couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in today’s Republican Party. No, today you must rely on diverting attention from “junk science” and pointing fingers at your opponent’s “false theology” that “elevates earth above man.”

One of the (marginally less insane) reasons conservatives cite for being opposed to environmental policies is the harm they believe it will do to our economy. In a recession, they say, we can’t afford to do anything that will restrain job creators from their unfettered, free-market pursuits. However, let’s look at our current economic situation through sober eyes. We have a jobs deficit in this country of between 10 million and 30 million jobs, depending on how one looks at the unemployment verses underemployment. So where are we going to find tens of millions of jobs from blue-collar, non-outsourceable jobs to high-tech, high-paying jobs?

The only answer I see is the green energy, green tech, green everything economy. And as one of those mythical “job creators” politicians like to lionize these days, I believe a strong set of tax incentives to reward energy efficiency for not just big polluters like power plants, but for every homeowner and business would be a huge business opportunity for all of us in the AV/IT industry. Energy efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of our clean energy future, and the ability to green our clients’ schools, homes, hospitals and businesses through conferencing tools and smart-building technologies could provide opportunities for decades while making a down payment on protecting our environment. And I believe my company full of conservatives and liberals alike could rally around that vision and collaborate on ideas for greening our clients’ buildings without a hint of politics in the air. I imagine yours could too.

But the task of addressing global climate change while simultaneously spurring job creation is made a lot harder when one of the potential candidates for president believes manmade climate change is nothing but a big lie. So wide is the divide between parties, and arguably, the country, that all President Obama — that zany false theologian praying to earth gods or whatever — could muster on the issue of climate change in his 2012 State of the Union address was, “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.” That’s some pretty weak tea. No, it’s not even weak tea. It’s an empty saucer upon which used to sit an empty cup in which we hoped to one day fill with some tea or maybe some really strong coffee.

Fighting climate change is not about rocks and dirt and twigs or false theology or junk science. It’s about having a planet where my kids and your kids and their kids and the people we work with and our neighbors and the people we sit next to every Sunday at church can breathe the air, drink the water and eat the fish without getting sick. It’s about creating an energy future where generations of human beings (not darter snails) yet unborn can power their homes and businesses with renewal energy sources so they won’t have to fight endless wars over a dwindling supply of fossil fuels. As a job creator, a small-business owner, a father and a human, I would very much like to see the Republican party of today take a few notes from Teddy Roosevelt’s playbook and nominate a candidate who can bring some fierce intelligence and bold ideas to address our twin environmental and economic challenges. Lord knows, the door is wide open for someone to seize that mantle.

Scott-Walker-rAVe-Green-AV-0910Scott Walker, CTS-D, LEED® AP, is president and CEO of Waveguide Consulting, a leading AV, IT and acoustical consulting firm. He is also a past president of InfoComm International. Scott is recognized as being one of the primary forces behind the founding of the Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) rating system and currently is a member of the STEP Foundation board, which is responsible for managing the STEP program. Scott can be reached at swalker@waveguide.com