Green dreams

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As we celebrate Earth Day in this era of all things green, it’s worth contemplating whether our enviro-guilt has gotten the better of our skepticism and critical thinking. Is “Green=Good” our sole metric these days, making us susceptible to self-serving spin from our politicians and corporations? After all, our Governator seems to have gone from bad to good simply by donning verdant armor and signing a landmark global warming measure that he long fought and watered down.
Closer to home, PG&E’s has been trying to greenwash away our knowledge of their penchant for polluting technologies and political corruption, a quest that our lazy but ambitious and ever image conscious Mayor Gavin Newsom has sporadically tried to piggyback on (ie tidal power, sponsored conferences, and solar everything). When Newsom tried to beef up the city solar commitment by robbing a seismic upgrade fund for renters and then the city’s own bank for building municipal solar panels, it was understandable that the Board of Supervisors balked.
But in today’s Chron, SPUR policy wonk Egon Terplan and righteous activist Van Jones whack the move and decry city plans for more fossil fuel generation. It’s not a bad point, although it is an oversimplistic one, like too many of our either-or green political debates these days. Indeed, we seem to lose the ability to see shades of gray when we talk green, and we too often forget that money is the other form of green in the equation.
As we’ve reported, San Francisco’s solar problems are complicated, just like our power generation problems (see our story in tomorrow’s paper for a more nuanced look at the peaker plant issue). To solve the problems, we need honest leaders speaking candidly to us and each other, rather than all the spin, self-interest, and political gamesmanship that has sullied San Francisco’s political dialogue in recent years.
Green can be good, or it can be the equivalent of snake oil or the IPO for a overhyped tech company that will never make any money. As an excellent recent cover story in Harper’s Magazine noted, the green economy could be the next great bubble after the housing and dot-com crashes, something that desperate capitalists and their political partners are eagerly trying to make so.
Maybe that will be a good thing, but let’s learn our lessons from the last couple bubbles and don’t simply assume that the green label is some kind of stamp of public interest approval.