If you want to see the bold future of alternative energy, don't look to the relatively timid plan coming out of the Obama White House. Instead, look to the green revolution exploding out of the least likely place you could imagine: the Persian Gulf.
Yes, the oil-soaked monarchies of such Gulf states as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are designing, developing, funding, and building a visionary future of clean, renewable energy. It completely reconfigures the meaning of "ironic" to see these Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries oligarchs become the pioneers of a green world – but there they are.
As Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in The New York Times on Jan. 12: "They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities ... and setting up green research parks."
In so doing, the Gulf states are becoming world leaders in alternative energy, a position that many assumed belonged to America. In just one small country, Abu Dhabi, the crown prince is investing $15 billion in renewables – as much as Obama has proposed for all of the United States.
From developing "green concrete" and new solar devices to building a model city that generates no carbon emissions, these leaders are making breakthroughs that will redefine the world's energy economy. In the process, they also are gaining patents, manufacturing capacity, and market power that could put them in a familiar position: the world's dominant energy provider. Indeed, they candidly state that they intend to be the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.
Where are our leaders? Not only should they think much bigger than they are about developing the green-energy future – but also about democratizing it.
Hip, hip, hooray! Let's hear it for bankers!
No, not those bankers – not Citigroup, Bank of America, and the other greed-headed giants that have taken billions of dollars each from us taxpayers and essentially run off with it. They're arrogantly refusing to pour those bailout funds into our credit-starved economy by making loans to businesses, consumers, and others.
Outside of Wall Street, however, and outside of the media spotlight, there's a different story. You can find it in Green Bay, Wis., for example, where Nicolet National Bank got $15 million from the bailout – an amount that wouldn't even cover a single Wall Street baron's bonus money. But Nicolet's bankers didn't use their taxpayer funds for bonuses, jet planes, or gobbling up another bank. They used it to make loans, pumping the cash directly into the local economy. "This bank can only be as good as the community it operates in," says the bank's CEO. "We're very invested in this community."
The same is true in Southern Maryland, where Shore Bancshares runs three small-town banks. The dab of bailout money it got is also being pushed out vigorously. "We have continued to loan money and support the community," says the CEO. Imagine the head of Citigroup or any other Wall Street empire even grasping the concept of community.
All across the country, hundreds of independent banks in urban neighborhoods, small cities, and rural areas are doing what banks are supposed to do: serve communities. There's a Louisiana bank that's even holding town meetings throughout its region to let potential borrowers know that it can help them immediately with their credit needs. Independent, smaller banks like these didn't put their money into flimsy global financial schemes, so they are now better capitalized than the giants – and because they've stayed connected to local customers, the independents have something the Wall Streeters can never buy: a measure of public trust and support.
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