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Alameda’s Lost Chance at the Green Innovation Revolution

Thomas Friedman, a columnist for The New York Times argues in his new book, Hot Flat and Crowded, for America to launch a new green innovation revolution. Is Alameda missing its chance to be a part of it?

In his book, and in his NPR interview, Friedman draws parallels between the perceived threats of Communism in the ’50s and ’60s and the perceived threats of global climate change; he wants a national, unifying response to climate change akin to the country’s response to expansive communism some fifty-odd years ago. Friedman insists that we need “massive [technological] breakthroughs in clean power” and that America should take the lead in solving the world’s biggest problem – climate change – with “a hundred thousand innovators in a hundred thousand garages, trying a hundred thousand things, a hundred of which will be really promising, ten will be workable and three will be the next Google.” Only a market, shaped by the proper signals and regulatory controls can tackle a problem at this scale – the current ‘dirty’ energy system needs to be wholly replaced by a clean one – and succeed. But America is already losing out to Denmark and Germany when it comes to wind and solar power.

Alameda, too, is on the verge of losing out on this revolution. Alameda Point, with its vast number of industrial buildings well-suited to research, development and prototyping of climate change solutions, has effectively been slated for demolition. Gone will be the hangars and other industrial buildings that could be put to work in Friedman’s green innovation revolution, and in their place will be high-density condos, without even a garage for one of Friedman’s hundred thousand innovators. Consider the irony – climate change is “man-made,” so instead of putting an existing light-industrial area to use to solve the problem, let’s level it and bring in more of the source of the problem, i.e. people and housing.

This current, mis-guided, track that we’re on for Alameda Point is the fault of Mayor Beverly Johnson, who allowed the focus of the re-use of Naval Air Station Alameda to shift away from jobs and light-industry to housing. What a tragedy it will be if Alameda Point gets built with thousands upon thousands of homes and the opportunity is lost to create jobs and a national center for a new climate change response industry.


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