In a post-Earth Day address Monday, former President Bill Clinton encouraged Fayette County students to follow through on their efforts to ensure that people and nature exist in harmony.
In an address to 5,000 to 6,000 students, teachers, parents and politicians at Rupp Arena, the 42nd U.S. president praised the efforts of the Bluegrass Youth Sustainability Council, a coalition of students that promotes environmental awareness. The students encourage others to conserve energy and try to live in a way that doesn't deplete resources.
"We live in a world where, I hate to say it, constant conflict produces the best political results, but it is lousy economics," Clinton said. Getting people of differing viewpoints to work together for a sustainable future has proved beneficial in Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
"That's what these students want to do," Clinton said.
Clinton was invited by Sustainability Council facilitator Jane Brady Knight, a senior at Henry Clay High School.
Clinton, 65, said he accepted the invitation "because as nearly as I can determine, this is the only county in America where all the high schools have joined together to do anything together like this, and you should be very, very proud of them."
Sustainability is based on the principle that everything we need for survival depends on the natural environment. Sustainability, then, strives to make sure that people have and continue to have the water, materials and resources to protect human health and the environment.
Sustainability is a part of the work of the William J. Clinton Foundation. The foundation works with 58 of the world's largest cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and it assists cities in making energy savings improvements to buildings and transit systems.
The foundation also works on sustainable development projects in Peru and Colombia in South America, and in Rwanda and Malawi in Africa.
Sustainability cannot work "unless we can develop an economic model that proves it's good business," Clinton said.
People have generally thought that "a country could not get rich, stay rich and grow richer unless they put more carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere without regard to the consequences. Now, virtually no one believes that," Clinton said.
He said the Army and the Navy are reducing their carbon footprints because "they also think it's good economics." Solar panels are popping up on Army bases around the country. The Navy, meanwhile, works on alternative fuels.
"The most important thing we should ask is, 'What can we all do to make it good economics?'" Clinton said.
Cisco Systems, the world's largest maker of computer networking gear, has helped Seoul, South Korea, and other megacities reorganize their traffic patterns, "which reduced traffic jams ... and saved enormous amounts of fuel and money and time," Clinton said.
Germany and Denmark generate more solar and wind energy, but "they also realized they needed their coal-fired plants. European Union countries are mandated to produce 20 percent of their power from renewable sources.
"They came up with a very clever idea: They would substitute 20 percent of the coal for wood pellets," Clinton said. "Guess where they're made? Mostly in Virginia, by a machine that costs only $30 million. You collect wood waste from furniture manufacturers and timber mills, and you cut trees from sustainable forests where they plant more than they cut every year.
"They saved their coal industry, and they saved their coal supply, and they cut their emissions by 20 percent," Clinton said. "There are things like this going on all over the world."
"Changing the way we produce and consume energy and deal with local resources is the single most important thing we could do to create jobs in America today," Clinton said.
He said schools closed during the summer can be retrofitted to be more energy-efficient. "Every old building with a flat roof and black tar covering — and I bet you've got a lot of them in Kentucky — if they were all painted white, their air-conditioning bill in the summer would go down between 10 and 20 percent," Clinton said.
Clinton's visit came just hours after the Fayette County school officials learned that Rosa Parks Elementary in Lexington was among three Kentucky schools to be named the first-ever U.S. Department of Education "Green Ribbon Schools." The award recognizes the schools for their efforts to reduce their environmental impact and to prepare students with sustainability concepts.
Georgetown Middle School in Scott County also received the honor.
Students interviewed at Monday's Rupp Arena event said their schools do what they can to be more energy-efficient.
Bridjet Agee, 18, a senior at Martin Luther King Academy for Excellence, said she recycles and does what she can to make sure she doesn't waste electricity.
Kira Turner, 14, of Lexington Traditional Magnet School said she recycles newspapers, plastic bottles and aluminum cans. And the school collects rain water in a barrel to nourish a garden.
Miles Dunn, 14, also of LTMS, said, "Whenever I leave a room, I usually always turn off the lights. And when I'm brushing my teeth, I like to turn off the water so I'm not using as much."
The cost to prepare Rupp Arena from a Disney on Ice skating show on Sunday afternoon to Clinton's Monday appearance was "plus or minus $15,000," said Bill Owen, president and chief executive officer of Lexington Center Corp. Crews came in overnight to cover the ice with a floor, hang drapes in the upper arena, erect stages and put the sound system in. The cost will be defrayed in part by contributions secured by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray from donors, Owen said.
"I don't know who they are," he said.
Clinton visited Central Kentucky less than two years ago, when he was in Lexington and Nicholasville to raise money for the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center. Clinton made a surprise visit to the hearing and speech center on Monday.
His successor, former President George W. Bush, is scheduled to visit Richmond May 3 as part of a fund-raiser for St. Mark Roman Catholic Church and School.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.