The following is from a presentation given by SustainLane's Warren Karlenzig at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on May 2, 2007, on the subject of green cities, with Jared Blumenfeld, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and Ian Kim from the Reclaim the Future program at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.
Thank you to the Commonwealth Club, and to the contributors of How Green is Your City?: Richard Young, Ken Ott and Frank Marquardt (and in absence, Rachel Yaseen and Paula White).
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That’s the Green Economy versus what I’m calling the Gray Economy.
What is the Gray Economy? Some might call it the “Old Economy” but that’s so old economy, ala the Dot Com era.
The Gray Economy is a larger and more timely concept than the so-called gray market, which is marginally legal but not ethical. Like the gray market, the Gray Economy is off the books. Get away with it if you can. Take the money and run: carbon, toxic pollutants and catastrophic global climate change are someone else’s—or another generation’s--problem.
The Green Economy considers system impacts to the economy, including quality of life and the mitigation of global climate change. The Green Economy makes money and creates new jobs by providing sustainable development for current and future generations.
Everyone is aware of the Meltdown at MacArthur Maze in the Bay Area that happened last week. The Meltdown at MacArthur can show us how San Francisco and Oakland--and the Bay Area in general--are helping our nation move from the Grey Economy to the Green Economy.
By now we know a truck containing thousands of gallons of unleaded gas exploded, melting a critical freeway interchange. In the Gray Economy unleaded gas once represented big progress to reduce pollutants. But the Gray Economy doesn’t look at economic impacts of where gas comes from: Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela and the attendant off-the-books costs of securing it through supporting despotic regimes, drilling, producing, transporting, or consuming that gas.
Petroleum acquisition results in billions of dollars in defense annually, not to mention massive carbon and ecosystem impacts. As Paul Hawken states in the foreword to our new book How Green is My City: “A carbon-constrained world is upon us.”
What if, instead, that truck were carrying solar cells produced in San Jose?
They could be used for generating non-polluting greenhouse-gas free energy that would be plentiful for decades to come, not only for homes, businesses and industry but also for transportation, powering plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Even if it were a biodiesel truck, it would be produced in the US, hopefully California, benefitting US growers and local US processors. And it likely wouldn’t have even exploded as biodiesel has a flash point above 250 degrees while that of gasoline starts at anything below zero and above. If biodiesel did combust, it would have produced 40-60 percent less carbon emissions, while leaving the strong odor of French fries all the way to Gilroy.
To its credit, the Bay Area and California had a Green Economy response to the freeway meltdown.
Governor Schwarzenegger provided funding for free public transit (By the way: free public transit exists year round in the #1 city in How Green is My City?, Portland, Oregon) while people in the Bay Area have been telecommuting and using more public transit since the meltdown occurred.
The Bay Area is a leader in public transit use nationwide, with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), numerous bus systems, ferries, streetcars: there are three rail lines running on or under Market Street outside this building, two stacked underground, the only place in the world where this arrangement exists. In contrast, some metro areas almost completely lack public transit, such as Kansas City, Austin Texas, Indianapolis; Dallas-Fort Worth and Phoenix. What would governor of Arizona do in a similar situation: offer free gas to everyone?
Green urban areas are fast becoming more attractive to employers and people interested in quality of life and convenience. As gas prices rise or as gas availability becomes less reliable, regional economic competitiveness is starting to become based on factors such as public transit availability, walkability, and mixed-use zoning—where people can live, shop and work in the same neighborhood.
Other Grey Economy areas will also become obsolete: buildings that require massive fossil-fuel-provided heating, cooling, and lighting systems with searing black-top roofs are being replaced. Green Economy buildings generate and conserve their own energy, use natural light and ventilation and even harvest rainwater on green rooftops that stay cool, provide habitat and reduce the urban heat island effect. Some of these elements are happening in NYC on the new corporate headquarters of Bank of America, for instance. And Boston just passed zoning requiring that all buildings over 50,000 be LEED certified green buildings.
Green urban areas will produce a significant amount of their food regionally instead of importing it from across the globe—Oakland last year set a goal to have 30 percent of its food come from local or regional sources by 2030. This will reduce major transportation pollution impacts, while ensuring a more robust regional economy. It will also help make sure that food is what it is sold as—not unregulated toxic industrial by-products from China that are finding their way into the food chain of pets and people across the United States.
A key part of the emerging Green Economy is clean technologies, or the cleantech sector, which is creating new urban industries, jobs, and businesses. For instance, venture capital firms provided $2.9 billion for cleantech starts ups in 2006 alone, much of it in the Bay Area and metro Boston.
Local and organic food is the fasting-growing food segment; and green building is the fastest-growing segment in commercial construction and design. Cities are the epicenter for all these trends, and Bay Area cities are helping provide a model for urban centers in developing nations, where the majority of the world’s population now resides...
Photo: Jared Blumenfeld gestures during his talk.
(Introduction of Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco Department of the Environment, the largest such department in any of the nation’s cities with over 70 employees. San Francisco is moving to zero waste by 2020, is the nation’s leading generator of city-owned solar energy, and has inspired cities across the world with its green-city leadership and vision.)
Photo: Ian Kim and Jared Blumenfeld field an audience question about eco-equity during Q&A session after their speeches and nifty powerpoints.