Gold for Green Genius

Two upcoming events reward economic fringe thinking


Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Erin go braugh and all that, with one minor exception.

Drinking some emerald-colored beer down at the pub? Enjoying the trivial hoopla over the world’s first leprechaun museum just opened in Dublin last week? Excuse me if I don’t rush over (as in over the ocean, where someone’s bonnie lies).

Frankly, leprechauns—short and prunish elderly guys who play pranks on humans—are not interesting to me except for the gold they guard and don’t wish to share. If those diminutive hoarders would only sponsor a contest and give away the gold to people with the best eco-innovations, I might see them with more interest. But they won’t, so I don’t; they’re just little guys who wear green but don’t think green.

Here in the North Bay, 5,000 miles from tight-fisted leprechauns, it’s a different story. Here, genius innovators can dip into a pot of gold in return for good, green thinking. Here those leprechaun-esque guarding behaviors are useful only when applied to natural resources.

Here’s why. Ever since Bill Moyers explained that we can do better for the earth by hugging an economist than hugging a tree, Birkenstocked fringe dwellers and wing-tipped bean counters joined hands in mutual delight, and a new era was born, one in which profit-making and resource stewardship marry. For a decade now we have toasted the happy couple, the blessed union. Mazel tov!

Leaders in Sonoma County—and elsewhere in the Bay Area and beyond—have been advancing the new era for years. They are now looking at ways to change outdated pricing systems that presently use fiscal punishment and reward in counterproductive ways. For example, we are presently rewarded more for driving our cars and less for riding our bikes—relatively cheap gas and lots of parking for cars, but few safe paths on which to ride out bikes, and even fewer safe and convenient bike racks. Have any great ideas to turn this around? Those great ideas might be worth cash if enough people like them. The best ideas will be decided by vote.

At the sixth annual Climate Protection: Everybody Profits conference on May 13 at the Sebastopol Vets Hall, $3,500 in prize money will go to the best new creative financing ideas. April 16 is the deadline for some innovative economics ideas to compete for prizes. At the website, clever financiers can find out how their ideas might contribute to a new pricing paradigm that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Prizes will be awarded on the spot for the best new pricing and financing policy ideas.

To get juiced up for the competition and to get the mind stretched out in good ways, consider attending the second annual Turning the Tide conference at Fort Baker in Sausalito, April 14&–16, where eco-innovators will gather. This is the doing of the Institute at the Golden Gate whose mission is to “connect, collaborate, inspire and act” on behalf of the environment.

One conference innovator, David de Rothschild, plans to participate via satellite from his Plastiki catamaran—made entirely of used plastic bottles—somewhere in the Pacific Ocean because he is too busy calling attention to ocean pollution to dock for the conference. Besides, he went last year. All the others, being presumably boatless, will stay at the former military base with the view to die for.

Big names expected at the Fort Baker gathering so far include health leader Andrew Weil, sustainable-food leader Alice Waters, Nobel laureate and climate scientist Stephen Schneider, Pulitzer Prize&–winning historian David Kennedy, and Ocean Voyages Institute president Mary Crowley. There will be all the usual twittering and Facebook feeding for those who hate to go outside or perhaps can’t see spending the $895 conference fee for all three days, even if Alice herself is cooking the brunch.

Do the math and decide the most economical way to participate. Meanwhile, those who plan to attend the Climate Protection: Everybody Profits conference in May, plan also to carpool; the driver who shows up alone in any car pays a carbon fine. See? Green fiscal innovations in action. Hand over the gold.