Last week I had the honor and privilege of attending the invitation-only 5th Clinton Global Initiative in New York City (video). No event in history brings together so many current and former heads of state, non-government organization heads, international development professionals, corporate CEOs, investment bankers, Nobel prize winners, foundation executives, philanthropists, peace makers, energy leaders, environmental activists, and the media. It was no less mind-boggling for me this time than it was my first time, four years ago (I missed the first one). President Obama opened the event, and talked about how he had learned from his mother about international development. Hillary closed the CGI on Friday with a rousing speech about the role of women and girls as they relate to the world's problems (this year's overarching theme).
Recognition, education and inspiration
Only Bill Clinton could get all these folks together. For four days during U.N. Week we met to address such global challenges as poverty alleviation, climate change, health, education, and financing an equitable future. On one of the evenings, President Clinton and a host of celebrities presented the Global Citizen Awards to worthy recipients, including Rwanda's president Paul Kagagme for healing his country, and music producer Quincy Jones for his humanitarian work and philanthropy. After Alicia Keyes spoke about her own work in Africa, then played and sang, Pres. Clinton gave his most inspiring speech ever, about our common humanity and how some people rise to greatness and change the world. There wasn't a dry eye at our table. I said, "If he'd start a church, I'd join."
Chasing the sun
So what was I doing there? Four years ago Pres. Clinton's Canadian mining magnate friend, Frank Giustra, gave Bill a copy of my book, Chasing The Sun, and he actually read it. I received a call from his office afterward inviting me to become a complimentary member of CGI. They told me Chasing the Sun was one of his favorite books, but I didn't believe them (he reads a lot of books). I was thrilled and amazed. Then, in N.Y., he told me in person how much he loved the book, which is about solar power for developing countries, and that he ordered everyone in his foundation to read it.
I was stunned when he told me. Only someone really interested in solar energy would actually read such a book. It chronicles 12 years of lessons learned in attempting to bring residential solar electrification to people in the Third World. This is of huge interest to the Clinton Foundation, I learned, and Bill Clinton is an eager promoter of solar power for development in poor countries, as well as for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in rich ones. He told me he had a solar array on his Presidential Library in Little Rock. The cover of the CGI's Five Year Summary Report is a photo of an African boy cleaning dust off a photovoltaic panel.
I was back this year representing Standard Solar of Maryland. We had made a "Commitment", which all members are asked to do, to reduce carbon emissions by at least 65,000 tons by installing 5,000 residential solar home systems in the Mid-Atlantic region over the next five years. (The company, which I founded in 2005, is well on its way to meeting its goal). Over the first five years of the CGI's existence, members have made 1,400 "Commitments" valued at $46 billion.
Each year, the "Energy and Climate Change" track has attracted the most participants out of the 2,000 attendees. Without energy, we can't solve poverty, and if we don't address climate change, the environment will continue to degrade, hitting the poor first. All solutions are on the table and solar and wind power is seen by the CGI as key to the global dissemination of clean energy for the twin purposes of addressing poverty and global warming at the same time.
Making a difference
In fact, the Clinton Foundation, which seeks to implement many of the ideas and programs that surface at CGI, is helping India's Gujarat state to build a 5,000 megawatt "solar park." CGI seeks to put it's money where it's collective mouth is. On CNBC one morning, which broadcast Maria Bartiromo's show from the Sheraton lobby during the event, Clinton talked about small solar home systems bringing light to houses in an Ethiopian village he had recently visited.
My final astonishment came when a young man who used to work for the Clinton Foundation told me that Pres. Clinton had made him read my book and said he should look for a career in solar. So he went to work for Stirling Energy Systems which is building three of the world's largest concentrated solar power plants. "You got me into solar," he said.
We are fortunate to have Bill Clinton on the planet Earth's solar team.