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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Argues in Favor of ‘Clean Capitalism’

Posted By Melissa Lembke, Association of Climate Change Officers, Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Clean energy technology holds the promise for a more sustainable, less carbon intensive economic future. But policies and programs to stimulate investment in such technologies need to be expanded.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an internationally recognized environmentalist, has long championed the need for changes in public policy that would enhance clean technology investment, arguing that market security is crucial for sustained growth in the renewable energy and clean technology sectors.

Venture capitalist Wal van Lierop shares Kennedy's passion for clean energy and joined him on stage at Globe 2014 for a dialogue on how to bridge the investment world with the clean energy movement.

For Kennedy one message was clear on how to move forward with clean energy and technology. "We need a national marketplace that allows us to send energy back to the grid."

And when looking at milestones that need to be achieved by the end of the decade Kennedy said there were two areas of focus: (1) rewrite regulations in order to reward people for conserving energy and (2) construct a national grid to encourage good behavior as at it relates to personal and local business innovations.

"We need to have a smart grid so when you plug in more than six Prius cars you don't blackout the neighborhood," Kennedy said. He believes the world should skip straight to renewables instead of building more pipelines, saying we need to build more transmission lines along with a smart grid to store, save and send clean energy.

Van Lierop countered these statements with a dose of reality drawing attention to the high upfront investment costs that are making sustainable investments prohibitive despite an understanding of long term payoffs. The venture capitalist went on to say that in order to meet milestones by 2020 we need a welcoming environment for new technology. Governments must create a level playing field for energy resources and facilitate greater collaboration between energy companies and clean technology innovators.

Van Lierop continued by saying that while sustainable innovations can reduce costs and environmental footprints, "it’s not just a magical switch we can turn. I haven’t seen one study that says in one switch we can go to clean energy, so we need a transition period."

Kennedy believes the transition to a cleaner environment can be faster. "I think we can do this much quicker. We can't listen to people who say we have to move slowly."

Kennedy noted that electric cars only cost about three cents a mile to run, compared to 24 cents for a gasoline-powered car. The cost savings over 10 years, he said, is about $20,000.

"We'll see a very fast free market adaptation to electric cars. And when it happens, we'll see a lot of oil stranded," he said.

As an example of how costs for new technology fall quickly, Kennedy cited the huge drop in prices for flatscreen televisions.

"The pace of innovations is much quicker in our lifetimes. Last year, every single American auto company had an electric car," he said. "And you're seeing prices come down. It will strand the internal combustion engine. You won't see Edison light bulbs in five years."

From the debate it is clear that this revolution is happening, and it is happening fast. The transition to a low carbon economy is already creating huge business opportunities—General Electric, Siemens and others are making a lot of money with clean tech—and these will only grow for companies that lead the way by adding clean technologies and renewable energy to the marketplace as well as their own business operations.

Tags:  Clean Technology  Grid  Renewable Energy 

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