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Clinton calls for better systems at Aspen Ideas appearance

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times
Paul Conrad | The Aspen Times

ASPEN ” The greatest tragedy of the Kyoto Protocol might not be the fact that America did not sign it, said former President Bill Clinton, speaking Saturday evening at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

The greatest tragedy might be the agreement’s failure. Of the 170 countries that did agree to reduce their carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2012, he said, only six or eight countries actually will do so. (Not including 15 countries from the former Soviet bloc whose emissions automatically dropped when polluting factories were closed upon the collapse of the former Soviet Union.)

No one yet, said Clinton, has figured out a system whereby emissions reduction are not considered a castor oil that one must swallow, but one of the greatest opportunities of our time.

Speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival last night, former President Bill Clinton repeatedly came back to the same theme: that solving the world’s problems will take not only leadership and financing, but better systems.

As an example of how systems can be changed, Clinton cited his foundation’s work in the AIDS arena.

When The Clinton Foundation first began working on the problem, he said, six million people were in need of AIDS medication. Only 200,000 were actually receiving it, in part because the medicine cost $500 a year for adults and $600 a year for children.

Clinton realized that companies needed high margins because they were selling small amounts and accepting the risk of uncertain payments.

He negotiated to buy large amounts of the drugs, with guaranteed payments. Drug companies were then able to lower their margins substantially: the Clinton Foundation now buys adult medicine for $140 and children’s medicine for $60.

Most importantly, said Clinton, “everybody still makes money.”

Later in his conversation with Jane Wales, president and CEO of the World Affairs Council, Clinton said that he and President George W. Bush agree on at least one thing: the system by which food aid is distributed does not work.

At present, 100 percent of American food aid is grown in the United States and shipped to the port nearest the crisis, explained.

Citing the impracticality of that system, he suggested one like Canada’s, in which 50 percent of the aid is distributed as cash payments to the farmers nearest the crisis.

As a side note on food and travel, Clinton predicted that within 30 years, if not before, everyone in the world will be consuming a much higher percentage of food grown within 150 miles of where they live.

He later predicted that the immediate future of the automobile industry is in responsible biofuels and electric cars.

Again, he cited the need for systems to bring the market around: subsidies, a carbon tax, and a system for storing and recycling batteries, so that groundwater doesn’t become contaminated.

Clinton went on to cite a project from his foundation as an example of the way that changing systems can change the world.

Arguing that all the “low-hanging fruit” in climate change is in energy retrofits, Clinton said he has created a system to help people retrofit their buildings cost-effectively. In his Energy Efficient Building Retrofit Program, energy auditors guarantee the future savings of a retrofit. Banks can then loan the money on the guarantee that the loan will be paid out of the utilities savings.

Clinton finished his speech by charging listeners with several tasks, including supporting education for women.

He explained that most of the world’s current problems-climate change, energy prices, food prices-are exacerbated by the fact that the world’s population is expected to grow from 6.5 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

But he argued that educated women nearly always marry later and have children later.

And in keeping with the theme of the Aspen Ideas Festival, he encouraged all – but especially young people – to listen to those with different opinions.

He described a developer building in a community with both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. To suit them both, he built houses to appeal to the liberals on one half of the property and houses for the conservatives on the second half. People moved into the houses along ideological lines, just as the developer had expected.

The story drew laughter from the crowd.

“We’re laughing about this,” said Clinton, “but some of us have to cross the street, folks.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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