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Aug. 6, 2020

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In Our View, Dec. 28: Two Shades of Green

Environmental, economic concerns do not have to be mutually exclusive

The Columbian
Published:

Despite the many proclamations to the contrary, concern for the environment is not destined to lead to economic collapse. If managed properly, with due diligence for striking a balance between ecological and capitalistic concerns, a green economy can be vibrant and fruitful.

It is in that vein that Gov. Chris Gregoire’s latest endeavor should be viewed as an opportunity, rather than a detriment. Gregoire announced last week that she wants state government to be carbon neutral by 2020, and that the state Department of Ecology will be the first to enact measures toward that goal.

According to The Associated Press, Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant said strategies for meeting that desire likely will include purchasing electric vehicles when they are available and an infrastructure exists to support them; increasing the department’s use of renewable energy; and reducing waste and turning what remains into resources.

Yes, those ideas sound vague. But that is inevitable as the state and its citizens continue to sail into uncharted waters. The push for carbon neutrality is relatively new, and not every effort is going to be well-defined or hailed as a rousing success.

Yet while there are perfectly good reasons for questioning the validity of “global warming” or the need for carbon neutrality, it is difficult to ignore or eschew efforts to preserve the environment.

Typically, carbon neutrality is defined as having a net-zero carbon footprint — balancing carbon emissions with an equivalent amount of offsets. The cynic might say that means that state government is going to be planting a lot of trees, but the effort goes beyond that. And it calls to mind some pie-in-the-sky efforts of the past.

In delivering his Inaugural Address in 1961, President Kennedy said, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

Surely, that was viewed by many at the time as an absurd proposition. And while the endeavor eventually was successful, the benefits did not rest on the final result. The technological and inspirational advancements generated by the effort itself were a boon to the nation.

So, too, can efforts for carbon neutrality boost us. We might not get there, but we’ll be better for the effort. Technological breakthroughs and industrial transformations — many of them unpredictable at this point — will result.

Consider the benefits that are being generated by the development of wind energy. The Port of Vancouver estimates that 100,000 longshore work hours have been spent on wind-energy cargo this year. And a pair of deals with Vestas Wind Systems and Siemens Energy are expected to provide 235 jobs at the Port of Vancouver and $20 million in extended annual economic value.

The bottom line: There is green to be made in a green economy, benefitting the kind of entrepreneurs who have long been celebrated in the United States.

Diehard free-marketers might consider this to be a violation of economic principle, and they would be correct. But it’s nothing new for government to play a role in generating new economies, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When dealing with economies of scale, sometimes government is the only engine large enough to pull the train.

Gregoire, in making her announcement last week, also noted that the state has received $5 million in stimulus money to help businesses, nonprofit groups and government agencies pay for energy-efficient retrofits. The money is available, and it will go to those who generate practical and beneficial ideas.

And along the way, the proposition will help prove that environmental concerns and economic concerns are not mutually exclusive.

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