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Commentary

Robert Girling, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University. Chris Yalonis is founder and president of VenturePad Marin.

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of articles and comments about the Green New Deal. The concept spurred a resolution in Congress for a 10-year plan to mobilize every aspect of American society, patterned in part on Roosevelt’s New Deal that brought the nation out of the Great Depression. The goal is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and create economic prosperity for all. If we can mobilize the nation to address massive environmental, social and labor problems that already are harming us through costly natural disasters such as the spate of California wildfires, we can simultaneously build the foundation for a prosperous new non-polluting economy.

This is among the topics discussed on April 5 at Sonoma State University’s Sustainable Enterprise Conference., a regional gathering of 300 leaders from business, government, education and community organizations. The conference started at 7:30 a.m. with SSU President Judy Sakaki signing the “President’s Climate Leadership Commitment,” a document that commits the university to mitigating and adapting to a changing climate by reducing carbon emissions as well as “integrating sustainability into education curriculum, expanding research efforts and public reporting and creating and revising an action plan.”

The conference featured 12 panel presentations and World Café featuring experts such as state Sen. Bill Dodd, Sonoma County Supervisor Jim Gore, Elizabeth Brown, president of Sonoma County Foundation, Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria and Dr. Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute.

The Green New Deal seeks to address climate change by directing federal dollars to restructure the economy while creating high-paying jobs in order to address social inequities.

Many will question whether such an ambitious program is realistic. When FDR called on America to build 185,000 planes to fight the Nazi juggernaut, nearly every business leader, CEO and military general laughed at him. At the time, the U.S. had only managed to produce a paltry 3,000 planes in a year. Yet by the end of the war, we had produced nearly 300,000 planes.

So what might the Green New Deal mean for North Bay? Among the goals of the GND are first to move America to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. We are already leaders in this arena with Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy providing much of the region’s energy and companies like Ygrene financing energy efficiency. But there is still much to be done. Think for a moment about the thousands of gasoline-powered vehicles clogging our freeways each day. Nearly 60 percent of North Bay emissions are from the transportation sector. Think also about the possibility of placing solar panels on thousands of roofs and using the energy to power our cars. Consider how solar and wind energy, designing and building smart homes and cities and smart roads could reduce the threat of fire and floods and improve the quality of our lives.

And this leads us to another goal — to create millions of jobs for families that pay a decent wage. The Green New Deal calls for prioritizing investment and training, directed toward community resiliency. The fastest growing jobs in the nation are wind turbine technicians and solar panel installers.

Fortunately, the North Bay region is a national leader in resiliency and well placed to benefit from the knowledge base in the region. Many North Bay companies are creating new clean-tech products including solar panel components, EV dealerships, and composting service. As the economy tools up for the GND, high paying jobs will be created and more workers will be needed in technology firms like West Coast Solar.

Commentary

Robert Girling, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University. Chris Yalonis is founder and president of VenturePad Marin.

The Sustainable Enterprise Conference at Sonoma State University allowed attendees to engage discussions on a range of topics including How to Build Resilience in a Fire Prone Landscape; The Business Case for Sustainable Practice; Social Equity in the North Bay; How to Foster Community Health and Happiness; How to Educate and Prepare our Workforce.

There is no time to waste. The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change said global emissions of carbon must be cut by 40 to 60 percent by 2030. Since the U.S. alone accounts for one-fifth of the world’s total CO2 emissions, the world is counting on us to take the lead. We in the North Bay have an opportunity to be among the leaders by developing and sharing our technology, expertise and products with the rest of the world.