Did We Just Find a Cool Trillion Dollars for Green Energy Projects?


This article was published on September 23, 2014 at Huffington Post

By Felix Kramer and Daniel Kammen

As we gather in NY and around the world for ClimateWeek

Here’s a big idea that’s expresses the frustration, discontent, and anger we feel about how hard it is to bring about the changes we need to address climate change.

It’s increasingly obvious to open-minded people that a clean future would pay off. For starters, it would benefit pretty much everyone in the world. For billions of people at the bottom, it would raise their living standards, bring them into the global economy, and extend their lifetimes. For the top billions, clean air alone would improve their health. (If you ever here anyone talk about “quantified externalities” or “counting all the benefits,” that’s what they mean.

That’s why it’s so infuriating that we’re stuck with growing inequality of wealth. The stacked economic deck ruins billions of humans’ lives and futures. Not only that – the skewed influence of those benefitting from fossil fuels make rescuing our planet far more difficult. Naomi Klein’s new book, “This Changes Everything” examines this, and top climate blogger Joe Romm seconds the idea that unregulated capitalism is at the heart of the problem.

We have an enormous challenge: to unsnarl our political and economic gridlock. We hope this week could be a time when we start finding some effective solutions.

Meanwhile, how about an end-run? What about ways to tap big piles of money now to start saving the planet and saving money?


What we expect this week

We have at least one high hope for the UN Climate Summit. One leader’s speech could be so insightful, so moving, electrifying and inspiring that it goes down in history as a turning point in public awareness about the danger we face from catastrophic climate change.

The March offers hope that this week will convey the message that hundreds of thousands of people in NY, and many millions of people around the world, are committed to do whatever it takes.

ClimateWeek events could mark the start of a new cohesion. From-the-ground-up campaigns both online and in public squares have demonstrated their ability to secure substantial concrete results.


Here’s a start

How can we finance the carbon reductions we need? Getting multi-tens-of-billions commitments by governments is harder than pumping water from a depleted aquifer. And few foundations have enough resources to have an impact on this scale.

That leaves our private sector. It’s pretty obvious that the rest of the world is waiting for the U.S. to get serious about climate change.

One single large multinational company could launch a game-changing juggernaut that shows results before the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. The problem is that while they have the money, it’s their money, and they get to choose the playground.

Here’s where it gets interesting. It turns out there’s a big treasure trove: over two trillion dollars. That’s how much US companies now have in overseas profits. Like the “inversions” that have gotten so much attention (several health companies, and Burger King sold to the smaller Canadian Tim Hortons), it’s a business strategy. Companies don’t want to repatriate their profits and pay taxes.

The end-run we propose is to encourage large U.S. companies to some of put this money to work in working capital funds — for “pay-as-you-go” projects.

Let’s make companies an offer so good they can’t refuse. They’ll get global thanks and acclaim for their foresight. And these medium-term revolving investments will earn them a competitive return, improve the lives of billions of people, and leapfrog over fossil fuels to renewable energy..



Soon we’ll release details of a financing proposal to bring lighting and mobile phone charging to a billion people in Asia and Africa. The cost is so low — one-fortieth of the $2 trillion — that several large US companies could take on the project by themselves — and we’ve invited them to do so!

This whole week, we’ll be in New York and Oakland advancing the project. If you know people and places (especially ClimateWeek events) where this idea can be discussed, please write us a info@beyondcassandra.org


About The Authors

DANIEL M. KAMMEN directed the World Bank’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency programs from 2010-2011. A physicist and Director of the UC Berkeley Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, for the past 15 years he has worked with the IPCC that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

Dan explains: I’ve spent my entire professional life researching and analyzing the practical solutions we need to address climate change – and exploring them with students and the public. While at the World Bank and since, I’ve been on the ground as technologies arrive around the world. We are creating effective infrastructures to produce, distribute, and rapidly scale renewable energy technologies and systems.”


FELIX KRAMER, entrepreneur, cleantech advisor and investor, and climate activist, led The California Cars Initiative’s successful 10-year campaign to get automakers to make and sell plug-in hybrid cars. In his bestseller, “Hot Flat and Crowded,” Tom Friedman said, “Felix Kramer has made plug-in electric cars not only his passion, but an imminent American reality.”  

Felix explains: The CalCars.org campaign inspired people and showed how much was possible with current technology. Taking that message eve more broadly, I believe that once we decide it’s important to do it, the world can leave fossil fuels behind, while improving life for everyone.”