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Pro & Con Debate: Kert Davies and Bill Kovacs - 2002-06-06


MR. BORGIDA:
In our Pro and Con segment: Is it possible to protect the environment and see economic growth at the same time? A big question. And with us to discuss all this, from the environmental group Greenpeace, Kert Davies, and from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bill Kovacs. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us on a very, very hot day in Washington today.

Mr. Kovacs, your thoughts on that big question?

MR. KOVACS:
I would argue that the only way you can ever have environmental protection is by generating the wealth to protect the environment. If you go through the history of civilization, you find that we started off really as a subsistence economy, then we moved to agriculture, then we moved to industrial. And at each stage of the process you accumulate wealth. But the lower the stage of the process, the more you deplete the resources, the more you deplete the wood, the coal -- whatever it is that's in the ground -- the more you use the resources. And then, as you move from an industrial society to an information and service society, you then have created the wealth and you begin to reinvest that in environmental protection.

And if you look at what's happened over the last 30 years, the American business community has put $3 trillion into environmental protection. Every single environmental indicator is going the right way. So I would make the argument that the only way that you can ever have true environmental protection is to really generate the wealth that can pay for it.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Davies, your rebuttal?

MR. DAVIES:
The question that is brought up by that is: Why can't this economy, the most robust economy in the world, take the lead and the rightful leadership role that the U.S. should have on this issue of global warming?

Now the Bush administration says it's a real problem, humans are causing it, the burning of fossil fuels is at the root. And yet the government's reaction is to do nothing. I don't get it.

MR. KOVACS:
Well, let's put it this way. You can sit there and say the government is doing nothing, but all of the studies are based on very small amounts of data. And they're asking you to make the assumption that we're going to put 2.4 million people out of work, that we are going to lose about $300 billion a year in the GDP. So I guess the question that I would ask you is: If you were going to implement the Kyoto Treaty, how could you do it without costing 2.4 million jobs and $300 billion a year to the economy?

MR. DAVIES:
I don't believe those numbers. I think we can grow the economy. I think we can build clean energy jobs. I know that wind power, for example, has grown 40 percent in the last year in this country. There is a path forward that includes clean jobs, clean cars. U.S. industry is the boldest in the world, the most innovative. We should be selling this technology to the developing world. We should be moving forward with our innovation and our prowess in these things, and leading the world forward to a clean energy economy that not only protects the environment but makes lives better everywhere.

MR. KOVACS:
I would agree with you that we certainly should be selling our energy efficient technologies to the world. That is the number one thing that we should be doing. Because the truth of the matter is, if the United States went out of business tomorrow, the rest of the world is still going to continue to emit more greenhouse gases. China, Mexico, India, they're going to continue to emit. So what we have to do is we do have to transfer this technology there.

MR. DAVIES:
We have an obligation. We are 25 percent of the pollution in the world, with 5 percent of the population. We have an obligation to act now, act quickly, and act swiftly.

MR. KOVACS:
Well, we are acting. If you look at the energy efficiency of the United States, for example, it took 20,000 BTU's in 1970 to create a dollar of GDP. Today it takes 8,000. We're about 60 percent more efficient than we were then. We're efficient on the amount of oil that we're using. We're efficient on every single aspect of --

MR. DAVIES:
And yet the Bush administration says we need more oil and doesn't say we need more renewable energy, more clean energy. It doesn't make sense.

MR. KOVACS:
No. If you look at the Bush energy plan, it talks about renewables. It talks about tax credits to spur investment. In the House bill, you have $22 billion worth of new investment into renewables. But the bottom line is, no matter how much you talk about it, renewables as you talk about them -- wind and sun and solar and geothermal -- is about 1 percent of all of the energy in the United States.

MR. DAVIES:
We just did a report with the European photovoltaic industry -- or the European Wind Energy Association, and found that wind could provide 12 percent of the world's electricity in 20 years. That's a short time frame. It can be done. It's on that path already.

MR. KOVACS:
I think that's a great example. You have to ask the viewing public: How many people want a windmill in their yard? These things are about 120 feet high, 60-foot blades.

MR. DAVIES:
Who wants a coal-fired power plant in their yard?

MR. KOVACS:
They're not.

MR. DAVIES:
Who wants a nuclear power plant in their yard? This goes both ways.

MR. KOVACS:
They serve large communities. The wind and a wind farm is --

MR. DAVIES:
Wind is making money for farmers in Iowa and all around the world.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Davies, let me interrupt for a minute. This is an engaging conversation; I want to ask you one quick question, though. You mentioned a windmill in your yard and those kinds of things. Not everybody in the world has a yard in which to place a windmill, and are concerned about this issue. There are Third World people out there who are concerned about surviving each day. How do you make your case, particularly on the environmental side, to a part of the world where making it through the next day is important?

MR. DAVIES:
There is nothing better for the developing world than renewable energy. It is low input. There are no wires required. You set up a distribution system that's just for a village, build solar power for that village. At the meeting in Bali right now, Greenpeace is demanding that governments of the world put a whole lot more money than they are right now into renewable energy for the poorest people in the world. It just makes perfect sense. It fits perfectly with those economies.

MR. BORGIDA:
Mr. Kovacs, a thought on that?

MR. KOVACS:
I think the economists are very clear that people don't worry about the environment until they have a set standard of living. For example, if you want to address deforestation, that occurs when there is about a $7,000 per household income. And you have to begin generating wealth in these nations. And generating wealth means moving them from subsistence living to industrial and then into the information age. And the best way to do that is technology transfer. I think that the United States is very well-equipped to do that, and we should do it. And that's probably the one point we agree on.

MR. DAVIES:
And we would agree on that.

MR. KOVACS:
The bottom line is we have to --

MR. DAVIES:
The point is we have to leapfrog the dirty technology and go to the clean -- not let these countries and these people make the same mistakes that we made in going through these dirty pathways. It's simple.

MR. BORGIDA:
It's nice to end on a point of agreement. Thank you so much, Bill Kovacs, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Kert Davies, of Greenpeace. I enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much.

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