Yesterday, I presented a suite of “big ideas” that Rhode Island leaders need to embrace in order to correct out state’s economic course. To recap: they must realize that Rhode Island is its own economic entity and gear policy accordingly. They must look outward and tap into international markets. And they must develop and steward a unique, exportable product.
This product? Sustainability.
Environmental non-profits like the Sierra Club have been championing this for years. Former Congressional candidate David Segal included this as a significant piece of his platform in 2010, and our current Congressional delegation – our junior Senator in particular – have pushed for environmentally-friendly carbon-reducing initiatives at the federal level. For some reason, though, Rhode Island has not taken to this idea (apparently the governor and the RIEDC have come up with some sort of sustainable development plan, but every link that came up in a Google search was broken and neither the RIEDC nor the governor’s websites make any mention of it). But it could work, and it will take myriad stakeholders working together cooperatively to make it a reality.
So why the green economy? And why now? Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that climate change is real and will affect our quality of life in the near future. This new reality has resulted in the development of a worldwide market for technologies to address this situation, with a huge potential for economic growth for those who are able to seize on this opportunity. The US as a whole has been relatively slow to pursue this avenue – in fact, as we all know, there exists more than a handful of members of Congress who deny that climate change is real. National energy policy will remain focused on coal, oil, and natural gas with a token nod to the renewable energy sector. Therefore, it is up to us at the local level to invest in the future. Rhode Island can’t afford to wait to do so, either. Portland, Oregon has already decided to bill itself as the sustainable capital of the West, and its economic development and comprehensive plans both reflect this. By focusing heavily on innovation and collaboration in this sector, it is positioning itself to be a global leader in the “green” market. It is only a matter of time before some metro region on the East coast decides to do the same. There is no reason why Rhode Island cannot be the sustainable capital of the East. Stakeholders should be convened to discuss and develop a collaborative plan to harness the state’s vast idle resources and together create a new sustainable, outward-looking regional economy.
Tomorrow, I’ll explore what this kind of approach might look like, and why we need to act now.