After three bumpy flights and one nauseating cab ride (solved with a doughnut) AND one inadvertently canceled hotel room (solved with begging), I set up camp in New York City to report out from the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting.
CGI was started by former President Clinton in 2005 to help “turn ideas into action” – too often, he saw commitments by governments and business to a particular cause or issue, but rarely did he see follow-through or hear reports on progress. So, CGI was founded to foster public and private sector collaboration on education, environment/energy, health and economic empowerment – with an emphasis on measurable progress.
With a bias for the energy and the environment topic, I was excited to hear what was being done and what new commitments would be made this year at CGI. I also had some skepticism that I was going to hear the same buzzphrases like: “public-private collaboration,” “building partnerships,” or “the time for action is now.”
But President Clinton made it abundantly clear that, to solve a problem like climate change, people outside of CGI have to be engaged. Governments, businesses and rich foundations can’t do it on their own. They have to respond to the needs and direction of local communities in order for any initiative to take shape and achieve measurable progress.
Example: Electricity in the Caribbean is the most expensive of anywhere in the world (35 cents per kilowatt hour – that’s about five times what I pay in St. Paul, MN). NRG Energy (a U.S.-based power generation company) is working with Haitian NGOs, governments and neighborhood groups to set up $1 million worth of solar panels to bring down that cost. And bringing down the cost of electricity doesn’t just mean cheaper bills and clean energy for clean energy’s sake: it means better infrastructure and a cheaper business climate to grow the private sector and help rebuild the country. What’s more, the Dominican Republic is connecting its electric grid with the Haitian one, which Clinton pointed out is pretty astonishing given the nations’ historical relations.
Another interesting point of discussion today: landfills. Clinton noted:
“If you want to fight climate change, improve health, foster entrepreneurs and create opportunities for the poor, the closest thing to a silver bullet is to close all the landfills in all the cities around the world…Almost every landfill is a goldmine…glass and plastic can be recycled, food can be used as organic fertilizer and almost everything else can be used as a biogas fuel… [landfills] are an enormous source of wealth if they are recycled, converted, or burned for energy. They’re an enormous waste but also a staggering opportunity.”
I considered myself knowledgeable in the use of landfills as an energy source, but I hadn’t thought about the greater potential of all we could be scavenging from them. Looking at it in this light, it calls to question how waste companies in the U.S. could be looking at their current landfills as additional sources of revenue (working with markets abroad in need of the materials we discard?) and perhaps avoiding the need for new landfills or expansions if the current ones could be capitalized and minimized. I’d love to hear from any companies who are doing this or something similar.
What’s up for Wednesday: Discussions on market-based solutions to protect the environment. And, hopefully, I can score an interview with one of the many smart people here.
Photo: Lucas Jackson © 2010 Reuters/PicApp