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Can everyday actions save the planet? Add to ...

Clean technology - sparking economic growth by cracking down on greenhouse-gas emissions - is the new mantra in climate-change circles.

On Wednesday in Ottawa, a high-powered summit, the SDTC Cleantech Summit, will hear from a high priest of green: the former environmental adviser to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Tamminen.

But first, Mr. Tamminen talks to The Globe and Mail about the difference between sustainable technology and "clean tech," how plastic shipping pallets can help save the planet and why he is persona non grata with the Harper government.

You'll be in Ottawa on Wednesday, two years after the federal government told you to stay out of town. What did you do to spark that reaction?

Back in 2007, [Arnold]Schwarzenegger was doing a commercial trade mission to Canada and one of the stops was going to be to visit the Harper government and he'd just come out with his climate approach. Because I was advising Arnold and I'd advised premiers [Gordon]Campbell and [Dalton]McGuinty and [Gary]Doer and others, a reporter called me. I was actually trying to criticize the Bush administration, but I came across as criticizing Harper - I think justifiably.

So what is clean tech?

To me that typically defines the technologies that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve the use of renewables like solar, wind or energy efficiency devices. A solar panel, an energy-smart meter that monitors your use of electricity and allows you to reduce your consumption - those are great technologies. But I think the real opportunity is around sustainability, not clean tech.

What's the difference?

To me the difference is, you can have technology that is cleaner but ultimately is really not sustainable. Even a plug-in electric hybrid car that depends on gasoline is maybe going to lengthen the period of time before we have to get off of oil, because at some point we are going to run out. To me, sustainability is things that are in everyday life. For example, there's a company called IGPS that makes plastic shipping pallets. The plastic one lasts for 15 years, and never breaks. You make it back into another pallet, whereas the wood ones just end up in a landfill.

Is it price or is it technology that is ultimately the key that unlocks the door to major greenhouse-gas reductions ?

I think it's both of those. It's not just that gasoline becomes more expensive, it's as hydrogen or battery power become less expensive. It's as those two things intersect and the lines cross.

Is the solution a carbon tax, which we have in British Columbia ?

Not so much a carbon tax, but a carbon reality. If the true cost of those things were internalized - and increasingly that is happening - that price starts to go up, the price of alternatives starts to come down, and those two things intersect. To me, the cap-and-trade system is the most fair-market way to rapidly force industry to internalize those costs.

What's the one thing Canadians could do tomorrow, and in the next year, to lighten their carbon footprint ?

I cringe every time I hear about people being carbon-neutral. You quickly realize how hard, if not impossible that is. You don't need to be perfect, you just need to be 20-per-cent better. If you're a typical family of four, and washing your clothes in hot water, start washing them in cold water. You can reduce about four tonnes of emissions a year. If you reduce your speed from 75 miles an hour to 60, you'll save 15 per cent of your fuel. There's a whole bunch of tips like that.

This interview has been edited and condensed

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