Worth the risk:
We need companies like Tesla to become sustainable Mecca

New Mexico last month embraced the changing economic conditions of global warming by welcoming Tesla Motors, a California company that will eventually manufacture more than 10,000 all-electric cars on Albuquerque's West Side.

Changing conditions for New Mexicans don't have to mean the wreckage of our economy. Of course, it won't be a walk in the park. Trade-offs and hard choices will have to be made.

We don't know yet how much water it will take to manufacture automobiles in Albuquerque, or if big-time manufacturing, as with Intel, is simply environmentally inappropriate for our water-short state.

Still, where there's change, there's hope.

We don't have to listen anymore to the dinosaurs of 20th century economic thinking, who still fret, as columnist George Will did last month, that responding to the challenges of global warming will ruin the American economy.

"How much reduction of . . . social goods are we willing to accept by slowing down economic activity in order to . . . regulate the planet's climate?" Will asked in his Newsweek column.

His assumption is that economic change will slow down progress - as if social progress in education, health care and the standard of living for most Americans weren't already at a standstill.

World corporate culture is beginning to awaken to the reality that there's money to be made in adapting to environmental necessity. Even corporations like DuPont and its chairman at the turn of this century, Edward Wollard, acknowledged that the "green economies and lifestyles of the 21st century may be conceptualized by environmental thinkers, but they can only be actualized by industrial corporations."

The Wall Street Journal described the core of Al Gore's environmental economics, saying "sustainable economic development requires mechanisms to ensure that businesses fully internalize the social and economic costs they bring about."

Gore opposes old, dysfunctional economics, in which "externalities," such as pollution and resource depletion, are "costs created by industry but paid for by society." One emerging factor in ending externalities, the paper said, is "consumer preferences for sustainable business practices."

When it comes to manufacturing computer chips or making electric cars in Albuquerque, we can't afford to consider water as an externality.

Nor can we afford, at this stage, not to take some risk.

If, in the next decade, Albuquerque were to become something of a sustainability Mecca, manufacturing new products to slow and perhaps reverse the truly ruinous economic disasters brought on by climate change, it would probably have to make a hard decision between population growth and manufacturing jobs.

It doesn't seem to me that the arid middle Rio Grande valley is any more suited to manufacturing than to boom-town growth, in a global warming climate.

It might be better for everyone if Tesla were making electric buses rather than cars, but in these early days of our changing economy, its good to have Tesla here.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
March 2, 2007