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California Governor, Business Leaders Lead Push for Green Technology


Today we present the first of a new weekly series of reports called "Searching for Solutions." The series explores how governments, communities and individuals are trying innovative approaches to address long-standing issues.

In this segment we look at the problem of global warming and the U.S. state of California's aggressive campaign to develop alternative energy. VOA's Barry Wood reports from San Francisco that businesses in America's most populous state are investing heavily in solar, wind and other green technologies.

Now in his fourth year as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has become a passionate environmentalist. With the world's seventh largest economy, he says California can be a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.

"We should all make an effort not to pollute our Earth," said the governor.

Scientists say greenhouse emissions are a key factor in climate changes responsible for global warming. Schwarzenegger has committed California to cutting its emissions 25 percent by the year 2020. That goal is even more ambitious than the European Union's target for the same year.

"California has taken the leadership in taking the entire country beyond debate and denial and to action. As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation,” said Schwarzenegger. “I have proposed that California be the first in the world to develop a low carbon fuel standard that leads us away from fossil fuel."

President Bush maintains that cutting greenhouse emissions nation-wide would hurt the U.S. economy. But some business leaders in California say there is money to be made from clean energy.

Arpad Horvath is an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "Bay Area venture capitalists are pouring billions of dollars into green technologies. And I think they are very right. This is the wave of the future."

But will it be sun, wind or something else that replaces coal and oil to make electricity? In southern California, San Diego Gas and Electric is placing its bet on solar.

"It's exciting,” says Jim Avery, an executive with the utility company. “We're building a major solar thermal development project. It will be, once it is completed, the largest in the world."

One California venture capitalist calls alternative energy the biggest opportunity of the 21st century. Stephen Levy of the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy says investors are throwing big money at multiple technologies, hoping for a breakthrough.

"And some will win and some won't. Like happened with Google and Yahoo, there must have been ten companies that tried to do that and failed," he says.

Engineering professor Horvath says wind has a bright future. "As fossil fuel prices have risen, wind has actually come up as a viable technology for electricity. Of course, we can't power our airplanes or cars on wind."

Many Californians are doing their part to combat climate change. There are more hybrid cars in California than anywhere else in the United States.

San Francisco environmentalist Erik Wolgemuth believes consumers and business are doing more than government in protecting the environment. "Ultimately the private sector is going to drive the innovation. And if there's not a market opportunity, if consumers aren't going to demand it, it won't be there.

While some may perceive the U.S. as a laggard in the fight against global warming, what is happening in California suggests change may be on the way.

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