Thursday, August 28, 2008

Why Denver Matters

Back about a half a dozen years ago, I had a job that brought me to Denver once a month for two years. At that point, the city was falling on hard times. It had staked its future on a broadband revolution that had stalled. Jobs were being lost, and housing values were falling. 2002 was a crappy year for a lot of people, and a rock-bottom bad one for Denver.

So it's astonishing to be here in 2008, and notice the way the town has completely regrouped itself around the sustainability industry. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is right here in town, as are a number of wind and solar companies. The Clean Coal (which is to say Not-Quite-So-Deadly-Coal) people have spent tens of millions trying make a splash here, too, though somebody needs to tell their PR firm that putting Sharpies in the swag kit isn't a sharp idea. Troublemakers that we are, we immediately put them to use drawing circle/slash NO icons over the logos on everything else in the box.

And the city's new emphasis on sustainability has permeated everything. The Big Tent itself was a production of the Alliance for a Sustainable Colorado, which turned a 100-year-old brick warehouse into one of the most LEED-awarded buildings in the country. The tent was set up in their parking lot, and was umbilically connected to the building for its power and plumbing. In addition, there have been no fewer than 10 climate change presentations at The Big Tent and related venues. (Brian Angliss compiled a great synopsis of the major discussion points at Scholars & Rogues.) You couldn't go a block anywhere in Denver without tripping over fresh evidence of the city's commitment to becoming the center of the country's new green economy.

Anyone in town will tell you that this revitalization can be attibuted to a pair of Democrats -- Colorado governor Bill Ritter (who just spoke about an hour ago, for those of you who tuned in early), and Denver mayor John Hickenlooper -- both of whom have taken the lead (or LEED) in pointing the state in this new energy direction. Denver's turning itself into Exhibit A that a green economy works, that it means new jobs, and that it can produce tremendous economic security for the cities and states that embrace it.

Nobody who's spent this week in Denver could have failed to get the message. That's why you're hearing the promise of a green economy permeate every speech tonight -- and why (based on the advance remarks we're getting) it's going to become the evening's dominant theme.

I don't know how much of this was planned. But I do know that most of us who were here this week -- delegates and media alike -- are going home with a much more detailed picture of what our new post-carbon economy's going to look like. And from what we've seen, it's something we can't wait to get to.

And speaking of sustainability: here comes Al!