With the election of a new president, America has a fresh opportunity to create a green economy that will transform how we live, said Joel Makower, author of Strategies for the Green Economy, during a presentation at the Gleacher Center on December 3.  Makower’s guest appearance was sponsored by Net Impact, which is run by students in the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA programs.

Joel Makower, author of Strategies for the Green Economy, during a presentation at the Gleacher Center in University of Chicago on December 3, 2008.

“It’s time to think big, be creative, and scale things in a bigger way,” said Makower, who is also the founder of GreenBiz.com and Greener World Media. “This is a moment in time. It all depends on whether [President-elect] Obama and his team say green is the pathway to get out of this economic mess — that green is the way to create jobs and new businesses and save money. That’s the opportunity.”

For instance, the government could use “the three big levers” of technology, finance, and policy to vigorously advance the use of solar energy, Makower said.

“The government can pull the technology lever really hard to come up with breakthroughs in solar energy that make it cheap to use. It can use a financing mechanism to reward people in a number of different ways, or have policies that create carrots-and-sticks to persuade more people use solar energy.”

Makower also suggested that the 8,000 machine-tooled parts that make up a wind turbine could be manufactured in auto plants by autoworkers.

“That’s the storyline,” he said. “This is how we create jobs and new businesses. Why wouldn’t we do that? In fact, if we don’t do that, we’re negligent.”

According to Makower, President Bush “squandered” a chance to end the nation’s dependence on foreign oil after the 9-11 attacks.

“Bush had the opportunity to place a $1 tax on gasoline, take that money, and invest it in alternative energy independence. But he didn’t. He said ‘Go out and shop’ instead.”

In order for a green economy to bloom and prosper, the country needs “leadership and vision,” Makower said.

“Right now, we have no positive vision of what a green economy looks like and how it can potentially employ five million people in the next two years. We need someone to say: ‘This is important, we’re going to make it happen, and I want your help.’ ”

Makower described how more corporations have been making “significant changes” to reduce their carbon footstep. Coca-Cola for instance created green vending machines, and Levi now uses two percent organic cotton in its jeans. However, he acknowledged that these changes are too little and it’s getting too late in the climate change game.

“They’re not going very fast or far,” he said. “We’re not seeing enough really exciting stuff. We’re just treading water. The efforts aren’t good enough to move the needle on climate change, toxicity and energy. We really need to be thinking big. We don’t have a lot of time to get this stuff figured out and turned around.”

Makower said if he had Obama’s ear, he would suggest he read Van Jones’ book, The Green Collar Economy, for ideas on how to turn the economy green.