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Bill Clinton: Green buildings key to fighting climate change

At the Greenbuild conference in Chicago, former president praises sustainable design and presses the need for global efforts to battle climate change.

Making buildings greener is key to fighting climate change, Clinton told a packed audience.
Making buildings greener is key to fighting climate change, Clinton told a packed audience.
Gregory Wenzel

CHICAGO--Fighting climate change requires making the nation's homes, offices, and schools healthier and more energy efficient, former president Bill Clinton told thousands attending the Greenbuild conference on Wednesday. Sweeping efforts to reduce the carbon footprints of buildings, which emit three-quarters of most cities' greenhouse gases, can measurably benefit the environment, he said.

"The sale's been made," Clinton said. "Otherwise Al Gore wouldn't have gotten the Nobel Prize. Now what we have to do prove that this is not a big bottle of castor oil that we're being asked to drink."

To that end, the Clinton Climate Initiative has been engaging businesses and leaders of 40 cities to plot ways to reduce carbon emissions. The project launched in August 2006 as part of the William J. Clinton Foundation.

"This is the biggest economic opportunity that our country has had to mobilize and democratize economic opportunity since World War II," he said.

In partnership with Clinton's effort, GE Real Estate announced on Wednesday that it will "green" all of its operations, which comprise $72 billion worth of assets and 385 million square feet of property in 31 countries.

Clinton also announced efforts to help make the nation's schools more sustainable by retrofitting existing buildings to use less energy and fewer hazardous materials. A quarter of American students attend school in dangerous buildings, but renovations can save money and create long-term health and educational benefits, he said.

Clinton noted the efforts of Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, and other school leaders from around the country who joined him onstage. Chicago is retrofitting all of its schools to attain certification through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED ratings are run by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, which produces Greenbuild. Other speakers lauding the benefits of sustainable design noted that there are more LEED-certified prisons than schools.

Audience members swarmed Clinton as he left the stage.
Audience members swarmed Clinton as he left the stage. Gregory Wenzel

Clinton insisted that the United States and emerging superpowers should embrace a successor to the Kyoto Protocol by 2010. Clinton blamed the failure of Kyoto in the United States on both Congress and the Bush administration.

"If the coming giants India and China and those coming behind them--Vietnam Ukraine, all these emerging countries--if they insist on the old industrial society's patterns of energy use, it is true that the most calamitous consequences of climate change will occur," he said.

"We have no idea what we can do in terms of reducing greenhouse gases because we just got started."