Clean Energy: A Very Chicago Enterprise

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Earlier this month I attended the Clean Energy Trust’s Clean Energy Challenge, where teams of entrepreneurial students pitched a series of ideas that could set the world on a better path by using the free market to attack serious problems looming before us: water scarcity, air pollution and climate change.

It was a very Chicago event. This city’s history is dominated by audacious, radical and profitable attacks on the status quo.


Everyone knows Burnham’s plan to re-shape the city into a livable cosmopolis grew from his brilliant vision for the Columbian Exposition. Less commonly understood is that the scheme was hatched in part to demonstrate the practicality of urban planning, clean water and sanitation that had been rejected by City Hall at the time. Rather than take “no” for an answer, Burnham invited the world to see a better way. That same spirit guided Samuel Insull to use cutting-edge technology and innovative energy policy to create the modern electric grid in Chicago.

Today, we again find ourselves with an unbearable status quo in need of quick innovation. Last weekend international scientists released an updated synopsis of the looming reality of climate change. It’s not pretty. And the inaction on this issue can already be seen taking a toll.

Bold action is expected from the Whitehouse this summer addressing our biggest carbon emitters to help slow climate change’s onslaught; but the broader transformation must come from a new generation of innovators. Illinois stands as one of the biggest carbon emitters on the planet, but a state well-positioned to thrive in the shift to a clean, diversified energy economy. Embracing strong in-state and national energy and climate policies will empower young entrepreneurs to continue Chicago’s rich legacy of seizing upon technology to improve conditions—bringing jobs, prosperity and a safer world too.

NRDC is an environmental action group, combining the grassroots power of 1.4 million members and online activists with the courtroom clout and expertise of more than 450 lawyers, scientists and other professionals. Jasculca Terman, an independent strategic communications firm specializing in public affairs, event management, crisis communications and digital strategies, is the sponsor of this article.

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