Green light bulbs, CFL or LED, take up shelf space in the corner store, companies talk sustainability, even grandma buys the green brand of tissue paper.
This is all well and good, but it's substance that changes behavior on a grand scale. And perhaps that's happening. Here's an example of the little clues I keep seeing.
At the start of a briefing this week with U.S. Embassy officials in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up green energy. It was expected somewhat as she was there to recognize an international institution set up to promote development of renewable energy.
But that the Secretary of State of the world's greatest power is focusing attention on alternative energy at all during this time of unrest and economic instability says a lot to the level of attention green has attained.
"I’m delighted that we’re here in this beautiful embassy compound for us to celebrate the greening of our Embassy and to recognize what a leader the UAE is in renewable energy," Clinton said Tuesday.
Can anybody imagine Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State under President Carter, doing that while on a trip to the Middle East back in the 1970s? He may as well have said he supports cold fusion. (Maybe he did, but I think not.)
Yet, Clinton's embrace of green activities isn't all that unusual anymore. The rhetoric appears just about everywhere, a stark contrast to just a few years ago when energy efficiency, renewables and sustainability circulated mainly in conversations by true believers. But this transformation raises questions, at least in my head.
Will renewables go beyond talk? Will solar and wind energy reach parity with that fueled by fossil fuels? Can going sustainable simply be considered simply another method of extracting power and achieving energy independence?
Check back in another year. At the rate this business is experiencing metamorphosis, we could be awash in electric cars and putting photovoltaics on every California rooftop. Then again, Massey Energy Co. may succeed in getting coal named as the U.S. No. 1 priority fuel.
I hope not. Statements like Clinton's and others encourage optimism for the former.
Just last month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, clean energy frequently dominated discussion. In fact, at least one high-placed comment singled out the San Joaquin Valley's green credentials, according to a post by Gabe Dillard of thebusinessjournal.com.
Dillard wrote that a Siemens executive said California is attracting green investment "and that Fresno, California is at the epicenter of this movement as a vocal proponent of clean energy and the high speed rail." Dillard pointed out that Siemens had some insight as it was the title sponsor of an Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County's event in October focusing on high-speed rail.
The same day she made her comments at the embassy, Clinton commended the activities of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, which was formed two years ago, has 149 member countries and has established its headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
"We must develop sustainable energy sources to address the main challenges of our planet," she said at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. "The status quo today is unsustainable."
IRENA has an ambitious charter. Its mission is to promote "the rapid development and deployment of renewable energy worldwide." Officials say that energy demand will skyrocket with continued development and a global population projected to reach 10 billion in 2050. With vast renewable energy resources largely untapped, they say, recognizing that huge potential will make a "significant contribution to the world’s growing demand for energy."
One can hope. We also would like to foster renewable energy growth here in the San Joaquin Valley, which is a veritable Petri dish for the development of clean energy with its access to biogas, biomass, solar and wind. At least that's what my co-worker Sandy Nax says, and he never lies.
Photo: Clinton with Interim Director General of IRENA Adnan Amin.