Bill Clinton sees global warming fight as a way to create jobs, opportunity

Former President Clinton told mayors Thursday that fighting global warming was a chance to create good jobs and give an economic boost to the middle class, to save cities and residents money with impr

Former President Clinton told mayors Thursday that fighting global warming was a chance to create good jobs and give an economic boost to the middle class, to save cities and residents money with improved energy-efficiency.

He urged the mayors, business leaders and community members in attendance at Benaroya Hall to view climate change as an opportunity.

"It is a godsend," he said. "It is not castor oil that we have to drink.

"It is in my view, for the United States, the greatest economic opportunity that we’ve had since we mobilized for World War II. And if we do it right, it will produce job gains and income gains substantially greater than those produced in the 1990s when I had the privilege to be president."

The crowd — many of whom were in Seattle for a climate change summit organized by the U.S. Conference of Mayors — repeatedly applauded his words of encouragement and vision for addressing global warming.

The Clinton Foundation more than a year ago started the Clinton Climate Initiative to specifically assist cities internationally working to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

One of its prime strategies is pooling the cities’ buying power into a consortium and joining with vendors to bring down the costs of energy-efficient items by making high-volume purchases. Clinton said the goal was to give manufacturers larger, guaranteed markets, which would cut prices; he recounted similar strategies that he’d used to successfully slash the costs of AIDS medications in impoverished nations.

During the speech Thursday, he announced a partnership between his climate initiative and Wal-Mart to support the development of energy-efficient lights and building materials and clean-energy technology. One of the first projects will be seeking ultraefficient light-emitting diode, or LED, street and parking-lot lights.

While the initiative initially focused on the 40 largest cities in the world, Clinton said the buying consortium would be expanded to include the 1,100 cities that are members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Clinton repeatedly emphasized the importance of the mayors’ leadership in reducing planet warming pollution.

"If we can’t do it here, they won’t do it in Europe, they won’t do it in Japan, they won’t do it anywhere unless we can prove that you don’t have to become poorer to do it," he said.

The message was well-received. Mayors from around the country said they struggle to make arguments about climate change that resonate outside wealthy, left-leaning communities such as Seattle.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he initially declined to join a pledge to cut greenhouse gases that was championed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels after considering the list of cities that signed up first. He worried what his commitment might do to a city with a heavy industrial base.

"To be politically incorrect, I said … none of these cities are places where people get their hands dirty for a living; these are cities where people sell coffee and microchips," he said.

Since he was persuaded to join the movement, Barrett said, he’s realized how measures that are good for the climate are also good for his constituents. In places with deteriorating housing, large investments to upgrade and weatherize homes could save energy, spruce up neighborhoods and save renters money on heating bills, he said.

There are plenty of people in this country who can’t buy a Prius because they’re struggling with bus fare, said Van Jones, president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Calif.

"I can’t go to West Oakland and knock on someone’s door and say: ‘Open up! We’ve got a problem! We’ve got to do something about polar bears!’ " he said.

The city recently committed seed money for an "Oakland Green Jobs Corps" that will train residents with limited employment prospects for jobs in a new economy fueled by clean technologies and energy-efficiency. That might include learning how to install solar panels, manufacture biofuel, plant green roofs or restore damaged streams.

The Apollo Alliance for Good Jobs and Clean Energy — a national consortium of unions, environmental organizations, businesses and social justice advocates — has an ambitious goal of creating 3 million new jobs to free the United States from foreign-oil dependence in 10 years.

That could include retooling factories to create wind turbine technology, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans to retrofit energy-inefficient buildings and building a new generation of mass transit.

The mayors group is lobbying Congress for $2 billion in new energy and environment grants that could be used to fund weatherization programs, energy-efficiency audits or infrastructure for alternative fuels.

Former Vice President and Peace Prize Nobelist Al Gore also addressed the mayors Thursday. In a message broadcast by satellite, he told them their initiatives are helping convince critics that actions to address global warming aren’t at odds with economic growth.

"We’ll prosper in the process, and thankfully many of you are proving that," he said.

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