This entire issue of the San Diego Business Journal is devoted to the green economy. We call these occasional issues devoted to a single subject a blockbuster. Perhaps we should call this one a gangbuster.
Why a gangbuster? Because the very existence of a green economy reflects an economic trend that has come on like gangbusters in the last several years. More on that in a moment.
However strong the recent growth of the gangbuster green economy, its gestation has actually taken place over many years. While some may rightly argue that the heritage of environmental stewardship in North America extends back to the earliest Native Americans to inhabit the continent, for our purposes, we are recognizing the growth of environmental awareness and best practices in the context of a modern industrial economy.
Born in San Diego
With that in mind, some may suggest that the beginning of modern green consciousness was born in San Diego at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography when Roger Revelle and Charles Keeling began measuring the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the mid-1950s. Others might point to Earth Day in the spring of 1970 as the beginning of the modern environmental movement in the U.S.
Certainly, in a larger sense, the work of Revelle, Keeling and others initiated the long period of almost 50 years between the creation of the initial hypothesis about the potentially destructive impact of the build-up of excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the resulting global push by governments and regulators to enforce large-scale economic regulation to control what some believe to be the massive threat of climate change to the very existence of humankind.
Today, in no small way because of the work of Revelle and Keeling and other scientists at Scripps, much of the world has embraced global warming as settled science.
That is much of the world, but not the entire world. Indeed, there is a battle afoot for the hearts and minds of average citizens around the world as the believers and non-believers in global warming take sides to sort out the facts.
So to add my voice to the chorus of those who seek the facts, I offer a modest question: Would we have a green economy without the theory of global warming having been popularized in recent years? Or to state it another way, what would happen to our green economy if it were proven conclusively that the science predicting global warming is wrong, or at the very least inconclusive. There is no global warming, no threat of melting polar ice caps and rising seas, of dramatic changes in climate and the earth’s habitat?
Would the green economy disappear into the atmosphere like so much carbon dioxide?
Defining the Green Economy
To speculate on the answers to the questions above, let us first define what we at the Business Journal mean by the green economy.
The green economy is comprised at its core by companies and organizations with business models based on the bet that there is a financial return in the invention, application and implementation of technologies and practices that shift the way we power our economy, build our buildings, consume and dispose of the material things in our lives, and interact with the natural world around us. The shift is to practices and technologies that are environmentally sustainable and friendly.
While the rise of the green economy is concurrent with the media noise around global warming, I believe the two are not inextricably linked.
Indeed, certain seminal events in the modern American experience have raised public awareness about the fragility of the natural environments. Who can forget the infamous Love Canal, or Three Mile Island, or the EPA Superfund for cleaning up environmental blight, or the air quality in the Los Angeles basin in the 1960s?
And that is just for starters. Many communities in America have experienced their own local environmental crisis. In San Diego, think about the blight along the San Diego River channel, or the pollution in the Tijuana River Valley, or the coastal waters polluted with raw sewage.
For a country whose wealth was literally carved out of the earth on farms and in mines and along great river ways, America for a long time lost its way in respecting, protecting and valuing the importance of the natural world as the very underpinning of our economic prosperity.
None of this had anything to do with global warming. And, I believe, that while the rise of the green economy is concurrent with the noise around global warming, the eventual existence of the green economy was inevitable. It is in the genes of America to recognize the error of its ways and to make amends. Think the civil rights movement.
But there is more than simply making amends. We can do that by planting a tree or 10,000 trees. It is when men and women step forward and bet their time and money on inventing a better, green way of transporting ourselves, building infrastructure and making the myriad of things that we consume to enhance our existence that the green economy begins to take root. It is when business becomes green that true transformation begins.
Business Community Coming of Age
Go online to cleantechsandiego.org/cluster-database.html to see a database of more than 800 companies in San Diego County that identify themselves as clean technology businesses. Note that this database did not exist five years ago.
Be warned that the companies in the database are not sole proprietors selling devices that will make your car magically travel 100 miles on a gallon of gas. These are the likes of Qualcomm Inc., General Atomics, Sapphire Energy Inc., Sullivan Solar Power, and a host of others; real businesses offering a wide range of products and services to the global market. They have embraced green. They are the foundation of the green economy.
They understand the earth is a closed system and that sustainability must become as much a part of our businesses as good accounting practices.
So the green economy was inevitable. Granted we are doing a better job of it here in San Diego than in most places, but it was bound to happen — global warming or not.
Take a deep breath and, rest assured, that amid the travails about the impending end of the world, the business community — long a spoiler of the environment — has come of age. Companies are going green like gangbusters, as this issue of the Business Journal documents.
Reo Carr is editor-in-chief of the San Diego Business Journal.