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Did We Just Find a Cool Trillion Dollars for Green Energy Projects? by Daniel Kammen and Felix Kramer

Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy | September 23, 2014

This post was authored by Daniel Kammen and Felix Kramer.

Here’s a big idea that expresses the frustration, discontent, and anger we feel about how hard it ‘s been bring about the changes we need to address climate change.   This proposal shows how easy it can be. We have plenty of practical solutions — we lack access and financing.

It’s increasingly obvious to open-minded people that a clean future would pay off.  For starters, it would benefit everyone. For the poorest billions of people, it would immediately 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 profile and influence of those benefitting from fossil fuels make rescuing our planet seem far too difficult. Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything, examines the politics of incumbent technologies and elites, 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 during ClimateWeek

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 online and now increasingly visible on-the-ground protests, the public has demonstrated its ability to secure substantial concrete results. We hope some of these will begin at the events listed at ClimateWeekNYC and People’s Climate March (some of which will stream).

Here’s a start: reward those who finance the Green Revolution

How can we pay for 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

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 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.”

Comments to “Did We Just Find a Cool Trillion Dollars for Green Energy Projects? by Daniel Kammen and Felix Kramer

  1. The good news is that renewables like solar power and wind power will continue to explode in adoption rates because the economics finally look good. Solar power has even surpassed grid parity in certain areas. I’m optimistic that the same capitalistic forces that lead to a century long boom for fossil fuels is starting to happen for renewable energy.

  2. Gentlemen:

    Indeed, there has been a sluggish and slow-moving progress when it comes to air quality improvements by the changes that ought to be in climate transformation and there’s no doubt that the vast majority of population would agree with your approach on this statement.

    Yes, it will require tons of money for this kind of modification and every time there’s money tangled to solving problems involving new adaptations, experiments based on innovations, thus, creating new industries with arrays of new suppliers, you have a pile of money-problems to convince investors.

    Surely, an investor would look at the proposal’s balance sheets; usually, inventions come in blank forms since there are no revenues yet.

    So, what’s the risk? Well, just think about it for a moment from an investor’s stand point. Where would you invest your money? On something that you have no data and solid facts, and you don’t know when and how you’d receive your money in return? Or, you’d invest your money onto something that you know for a fact that has a solid investment return, like, petroleum? Look at the charts and see for yourself, an investor will tell you. “The graphs here show an increase on petroleum extraction investments!” and he waits for your answer. “And, here,” he continues, “I have this report that says environmentalists and bird societies can stop Windfarm Projects, well worth over $100Million each!”,0,5936202.story

    Gentlemen, do you see what the problem is when it comes to money, because money talks.

    Though, you’re proposing in bridging the gap between Science discoveries and recommendations for Renewable Energy and government policies to solve practical solutions that can improve the quality of our well-being, shifting onto the private sector for projects financing and CleanTech investments.

    I have to disagree with you in regards to leaving the government out of the borrowing-money-picture and leaning onto private sector alone for new Green Energy projects.

    What a good example of what the government can do for your “Green Energy” start-up company? A good example it would be Elon Musk’s –Tesla Motors. Elon paid his borrowed loan ahead the time.

    I hope the government becomes more aggressive in lending for Windfarm projects.

    Consequently, to put this frustration and discontent in plain words about the modern environmental gap the world has grown between science and governmental policies and as the new discoveries keep-on growing, environmental scientific concerns around the world continue convincing politicians to mandate Renewable Energy policies, we will see that; Thus far, the science is there but the policy is not. Why? Because, as mentioned earlier, money talks.

    Discussing what role scientists need to play to become more convincing, other than presenting facts about Global Warming in this changing world, in order to bridge the gap between gridlock and Green Energy Projects policies it remains to be seeing.

    I would be very interesting to see what messages the UN Climate Summit will convey to millions of people, to those who finance Green Energy and to those CleanTech companies who can actually put their hands on machinery and equipment needed to bring the new change, and make it happen before we face the catastrophic climate downturn.


    • Dear Yanno, I just have one confusion about your comment regarding the “money talk.” We cannot not consider the effect of environmentally friendly investment on the public image of the company. This can directly be translated to the revenue. As we see many companies consider Going Green, supporting Sustainability and trying to leave a smaller Carbon Footprint, etc.

      Therefore, if there is enough emphasis on the issues (by media, politicians,…) there would be a pretty interesting deal for companies to invest on new invention.

      Zahra Fallahi

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