Why I Do What I Do: Michael Noble, Cofounder, Minnesotans For An Energy-Efficient Economy

Photo by Wendy Woods

Inspired by his liberal-arts studies in college, along with readings on economics and alternative energy sources, Michael Noble envisioned himself being "part of the solution" when he graduated in 1977. Thirteen years later, Noble, with 59 other citizens representing nonprofit groups, formed Minnesotans for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ME3). The founders believed energy policy was lagging and it was time to develop an economy that relies on modern energy technologies that don't leave a legacy of waste to last for millennia. Since then, the group has bridged gaps among like-minded environmental, business, consumer, and entrepreneurial groups in an effort to usher the transition to a clean, efficient, and fair energy system.

Q: Changing this country's energy system seems like a daunting task. What keeps you motivated?

A: I get my energy from steady and continual improvements. We win some modest victories almost every month, and sometimes we win big victories, but making connections between unlikely allies is my favorite kind of progress. Today, for example, I learned that two groups I have worked closely with in the past—a team of renewable-energy policy researchers and the steelworkers' union—have begun a study on the jobs that would result from getting 20 percent of our nation's electricity from wind power.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself and for ME3?

A. My first goal is to see energy efficiency and a steadily increasing amount of our state's and nation's energy derived from clean sources. I also hope to bring about changes to the rules of the game so that polluting energy sources become more expensive than the clean ones. Finally, I want to strengthen ME3's employees' [relationships with] our allied organizations, knitting them into a unified force.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge?

A: The fact that in our democracy today, money has more power than expert opinion and public opinion combined. Regardless of how out-of-step the self-interested industries are with good science, good economics, and good public-interest policy, if they have the power, they win. An epiphany came to me in a classroom of eighth-graders about five years ago. One asked, "If pollution from cars and power plants is causing global warming that runs the risk of ruining nature and harming all the people of the world, why don't we invent cars and power plants that don't pollute at all?" Why, indeed?

—Christine DeOrio