My first impression of Clinton was that he’d just woken up, or that he was under the weather. He had a little bedhead, his voice was a bit croaky, and he was speaking slowly. This definitely wasn’t the virtuoso Clinton of the 1998 SOTU. The fireworks were mostly muted, though there were a few flashes here and there. Still, on his worst day Clinton is never less than engrossing.

(photo: U.S. Mayors Conference)

He began by laying out the main three challenges of the 21st century:

  1. persistent inequality, abroad and at home;
  2. identity conflict, between peoples who think their differences are more important than their commonalities; and
  3. unsustainability.

The good news is, he said, that tackling the third will also do wonders for the first two. The clean energy revolution will spread jobs democratically, and it will offer us all something we can do together, a shared purpose.

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Climate change is "a godsend, not castor oil." It’s the greatest economic opportunity since the U.S. mobilized for WWII. It will produce enormous job gains. Meanwhile, cities cover 2% of the earth’s land but are responsible for 75% of human emissions. So this is a perfect task for mayors: "That’s your kind of deal — you’re doers."

Having thus framed the problem, he made the big announcement of the day: the Clinton Global Initiative, which has been working to put the C40 (the world’s biggest 40 cities) into a purchasing pool to create economies of scale for green and efficiency products, was now opening that purchasing pool to every city that has signed the mayors climate agreement (728 at last count, I believe).

I discussed the CGI purchasing pool idea here. It’s quite brilliant — all these mayors, no matter the size of their city, will have access to cheap goods and services to help them go green. Meanwhile, manufacturers of those goods will have access to enormous bulk orders with some certainty about the market. Prices will rapidly fall, and so will emissions.

The other big announcement is that the CGI has partnered with Wal-Mart to find and develop energy efficient products and bring them to market.

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Thus is Clinton, through sheer force of personality, creating a huge market for green goods and a huge supplier.

Part of the market will be retrofitting existing buildings, which is a huge, huge opportunity. Right now it’s not a user-friendly process, but if mayors can help organize the market, establish some benchmarks and best practices, and encourage banks to develop new financing mechanisms, this could represent enormous economic and environmental gains. And it’s work that can’t be outsourced.

Every 5-8 years, the U.S. economy needs another new source of good jobs, to keep median wages from falling. Ours have been falling because we’ve passed up on green tech jobs. It’s time to take advantage of them.

We have to prove to the world that this stuff makes economic sense, that its an opportunity, not something to fear.

"When you’re older, you’ll look back and thank God you were in this position at this time. This is not boring — this is fun!"

Here’s the video, from the U.S. Conference of Mayors site:

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