Michael Bain

Over the course of the past several months the issue of climate change has become the newest sociopolitical craze. Catalyzed in part by the foreign policy impact of U.S. oil dependence as well as by post-Katrina natural disaster woes, the increased focus on humanity’s crash course with ecological destruction has dominated magazine covers, spawned documentaries, and revitalized Al Gore’s career. Nonetheless, many have repeatedly contested environmental initiatives because of their supposed detrimental impacts on industry and consumers. However, in a refreshingly capitalistic twist on the “guilt-driven” environmental movement, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a speech April 11 at Georgetown University’s Conference on Environmental Leadership in which he outlined some of the compelling economic benefits associated with going green.

With his trademark bravado, Schwarzenegger articulated his goal to develop an “environmental economy” in which tough emissions standards will create the incentive for the growth of mainstream ecologically friendly industries. The governor noted that the demand for green products has already manifested itself in the business models of several industry leading corporations including DuPont, which recently hired the former head of Greenpeace International, GE, BP and Wal-Mart.

However, it is the governor’s redefinition of the environmental challenge that is most encouraging. American industry has always excelled and profited from being on the leading edge of technological innovation. Yet while European and Japanese automakers have been forced to invest heavily in developing eco-friendly products, American companies, lacking such incentive, have failed to do so. Indeed, Detroit’s general upset over California’s tougher pollution laws has recently been echoed by rumblings that tougher environmental measures will be needed in order to force American manufacturers to keep up with foreign industry.

Schwarzenegger’s approach to protecting the environment is a strong political step toward reconciling the false notion that environmental legislation and industry are intrinsically at odds with one another. With a larger than life persona and a moderate Republican platform, Schwarzenegger’s persona is the right one to help bridge the political divide on what has proven to be an extremely partisan issue.

In his speech, Schwarzenegger boasted about how he is determined to make California the tipping point in the environmental movement. He has already demonstrated his foresight and commitment to this policy by signing legislation that will reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020, and then another 80 percent by the year 2050. While initially this may appear drastic, the ensuing decades will demonstrate the wisdom of his approach both economically and environmentally. Other states would be well advised to follow the Governator’s lead as demand for environmentally responsible products is going to fuel the marketplace of the near future.