Climate Solutions Summit draws local leaders to UCSC

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal told regional economic and government leaders that UCSC and Santa Cruz County have a unique opportunity to participate in the solution to global warming and boost the local economy.

Blumenthal was one of about three dozen local leaders who gathered at University Center April 19 for the Santa Cruz County Climate Solutions Summit. Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley organized the summit, which was cosponsored by Blumenthal, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Neal Coonerty and Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly and coordinated by UCSC's STEPS Institute.

UCSC has "a key opportunity to leverage a unified commitment to the environment," Blumenthal said. "We can lead the way for the county."

Opening the half-day session, Keeley said Santa Cruz has the "economic features that allow us to be part of the solution. It's not about changing the world," he said, "but about saving the world."

Lisa Sloan, professor of Earth sciences and vice provost for graduate education, outlined computer models that show the steepening increases of carbon emissions into the atmosphere along with the concomitant rise in earth temperatures and sea levels.

Blumenthal, Keeley and other local leaders said Santa Cruz is well positioned to take advantage of increased awareness and funding for what's called "green tech" or "clean tech." Growing public awareness of climate change has attracted venture capital funding to a variety of emerging technologies. The hope is that Santa Cruz can attract new high-tech green businesses and thus boost the local economy while helping cut the output of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Santa Cruz has the institutional readiness, the political readiness and the physical readiness, Keeley said, referring to available industrial space throughout the county.

Steve Westly, the former state controller and Democratic candidate for governor, told the group that millions of dollars are available. Westly, a former eBay executive who is now a venture capitalist, said clean tech now represents 14 percent of all venture investment in the world. The premier venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has established a $200 million green tech fund.

Westly challenged the Santa Cruz group "to establish your image as a clean-tech hub," and urged local leaders to form a delegation to lobby Silicon Valley venture capital firms. "You are so close," he said.