The California Green Gold Rush

time_coverIf you’d like a brief — maybe even a lasting — respite from your recession woes, read the ultimate California booster article, the cover story of Time Magazine’s November 2nd edition, “Why California Is Still America’s Future.”

Here’s how it begins:

California, you may have heard, is an apocalyptic mess of raging wildfires, soaring unemployment, mass foreclosures and political paralysis. It’s dysfunctional. It’s ungovernable. Its bond rating is barely above junk. It’s so broke, it had to hand out IOUs while its leaders debated how many prisoners to release and parks to close. Nevada aired ads mocking California’s business climate to lure its entrepreneurs. The media portray California as a noir fantasyland of overcrowded schools, perpetual droughts, celebrity breakdowns, illegal immigration, hellish congestion and general malaise, captured in headlines like “Meltdown on the Ocean” and “California’s Wipeout Economy” and “Will California Become America’s First Failed State?”

Actually, it won’t.

Ignore the California whinery. It’s still a dream state. In fact, the pioneering megastate that gave us microchips, freeways, blue jeans, tax revolts, extreme sports, energy efficiency, health clubs, Google searches, Craigslist, iPhones and the Hollywood vision of success is still the cutting edge of the American future ā€” economically, environmentally, demographically, culturally and maybe politically. It’s the greenest and most diverse state, the most globalized in general and most Asia-oriented in particular at a time when the world is heading in all those directions. It’s also an unparalleled engine of innovation, the mecca of high tech, biotech and now clean tech. In 2008, California’s wipeout economy attracted more venture capital than the rest of the nation combined. Somehow its supposedly hostile business climate has nurtured Google, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, Twitter, Disney, Cisco, Intel, eBay, YouTube, MySpace, the Gap and countless other companies that drive the way we live.

The article says that if California were a country, it would be in the G8. Among the top ten countries of the world, it would place eighth with its GDP of $1.8 trillion.

“I see my own pattern repeated again and again ā€” people who want to invent the future and aren’t afraid to fail,” says billionaire Silicon Valley financier Vinod Khosla, an Indian immigrant who helped found Sun Microsystems and recently unveiled a $1.1 billion venture fund for investments in clean technology.

Which just happens to be the next California gold rush.

We live in a California Sierra foothill community — Grass Valley, with an unemployment rate already above 10% — that desperately needs to understand this new reality.

A Canadian gold mining venture, Emgold Corporation, has applied to the city of Grass Valley to re-open the old Idaho-Maryland Mine near the heart of the downtown area, and is promising hundreds of jobs.

Many old-timers point to the pivotal role that some 40 operating mines played in making this a boom region during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and believe irrationally that re-opening a single mine now will somehow rescue us again, despite compelling research debunking the promise of 400 jobs.

Neither mine jobs nor green jobs will save us from the recession, but eventually the recession will run its course. And, when it does, the new reality so fulsomely described in the latest Time cover story will dominate the economic landscape of California and the nation, but especially California.

It isn’t merely that we ought to plan for the long-term.

The truth is … that’s all we can do.

The only question is whether we’ll do it intelligently and in synch with the inevitable green and sustainable future, or whether we’ll disastrously foreclose that future by a foolish effort to turn back the clock to our nineteenth century gold-mining past. The nineteenth century ended for Nevada County in the 1950s, with the closure of the last mine.

Again, from the Time article:

If you think solar is an eco-fantasy, you probably don’t live in California, where rooftop installations have doubled for two years in a row, to 50,000, heading to the state goal of 1 million by 2017. The San Francisco utility Pacific Gas & Electric, which recently bolted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over climate policy, has 40% of the nation’s solar roofs in its territory. SunPower now has more than 5,000 employees. It’s building massive power plants for utilities, as well as roof panels for big-box stores, complete subdivisions and individual homes. Prices are plummeting, and competition is fierce, most of it from California firms like BrightSource, Solar City, eSolar, Nanosolar and Solyndra. “The scramble is on, and California is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the country,” says Dinwoodie. “That’s true of all energy issues.”

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