Why We Need a Green Revolution

It is time to get past the false choices that we’ve been presented with in regard to the environment. The typical “either/or” thinking about all things “green,” and the inaction that results, has left us behind much of the industrial world. The discussion should not be a choice between economics or the environment, or capitalism verses nature. And we should be well beyond the debate between global warming alarmists and climate-change deniers. We have some who correctly state that, “2010 remains on pace to be the hottest or second-hottest year ever recorded” (source); while others use a snow storm in D.C. to “prove” that global warming isn’t real (source).

The bottom line is this: Climate change (or global warming, if you like) is a well-tested, provable fact, not a hypothesis. The question that scientists have been working on in recent years has been, “To what extent is global warming being influenced by human behavior?” This is a key question because the answer empowers us to do something about this problem, especially as we learn more about the devastating consequences of global warming to our planet. The answer from the scientific community has been an overwhelming, “yes, it is caused by human activity.” Now we can take action to reverse the trends. Right?

Wrong. Unfortunately, there is serious opposition to taking action. Energy companies spend millions funding junk science front groups who will try to keep an element of doubt about global warming in the minds of voters. Conservatives have largely been in the pockets of big oil, defending the status quo of dirty energy at every turn. Rather than fighting regulation and supporting big oil’s interests, the business community should be supporting clean energy, and the new jobs and vibrant economy that will come with this vital and emerging field. It is destined to be the next big economic bubble—certainly something conservatives should be able to get behind.

President Obama used the word “energy” nine times in his recent State of the Union address. He sees the need for a green revolution as a way of creating jobs, filling our ever-increasing energy demands, and yes, a national security measure. He said in last week’s speech:

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy…we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, has made a similar argument about the need for a green revolution to propel our economy toward greater competition (see clips below).

Thomas L. Friedman

Friedman’s more recent book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America, makes an excellent case for why we need a green revolution now.

Here are some excerpts from his book:

  • Green is not simply a new form of generating electric power. It is a new form of generating national power—period…it’s about lighting up our future.
  • What kind of America would you like to see—an American that is addicted to oil and thereby fueling the worst autocracies in the world, or a green America that is building scalable alternatives to crude oil and thereby freeing ourselves from the grip of countries who have drawn a bull’s-eye on our back and those values we oppose?
  • A herd of cattle belching can be worse than a highway full of hummers…methane’s heat-trapping power in the atmosphere is twenty-one times stronger than carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas…with 1.3 billion cows belching almost constantly around the world, it’s not surprise that methane related by livestock is one of the chief global sources of the gas.
  • Scientists studying the rapid rise in global temperatures during the late twentieth century say that natural variability cannot account for what is happening now. The new factor is the human factor—our vastly increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, as well as from deforestation, large-scale cattle-grazing, agriculture, and industrialization.
  • Scientists concluded that more energy is being absorbed from the sun than is emitted back into space, throwing the earth’s energy out of balance and warming the globe.
  • The earth has already warmed on average 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.44 degrees Fahrenheit) above its level in 1750, with the most rapid rise occurring since 1970…the difference in global average temperature between an ice age and an interglacial period like we are in now…is a mere five or six degrees Celsius.
  • Fossil fuels are exhaustible, increasingly expensive, and politically, ecologically, and climatically toxic
  • [An IPCC report,] drawing on some tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific studies, concluded [with 90% confidence] that the reality of global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that there is strong evidence that this increase in temperature since 1950 is directly attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
  • Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone.
  • Species are disappearing at rates about a thousand times faster than normal.
  • We’re running an uncontrolled experiment on the only home we have.
  • Through our energy purchases we are funding both sides of the war on terror.
  • [Bumper sticker:] How many soldiers per gallon does your SUV get?
  • Our own oil dependence is behind more bad trends domestically and around the world than any other single factor I can think of. Our addiction to oil makes global warming warmer, petrodictators stronger, clean air dirtier, poor people poorer, democratic countries weaker, and radical terrorists richer.
  • Scientists point to new data [in support of climate change]—changes in global average temperatures, rising sea levels, and quickening glacial melt.
  • Hurricanes draw strengths from heat in ocean surface waters.
  • Climate-change deniers are like the person who goes to the doctor for a diagnosis, and when the doctor tells him, ‘If you don’t stop smoking, there is a 90 percent chance you will die of lung cancer,’ the patient replies, ‘oh, doctor, you mean you are not 100 percent sure? Then I will keep on smoking.’
  • ‘The most important conclusions about global climate disruption—that it’s real, that it’s accelerating, that it’s already doing significant harm, that human activities are responsible for most of it, that tipping points into really disruption likely lurk along the business-as-usual trajectory, and there is much that could be done to reduce the danger at affordable cost if only we would get started—have not been concocted by the Sierra Club or the enemies of capitalism,’ noted John Holdren. ‘They are based on an immense edifice of painstaking studies published in the world’s leading peer-reviewed scientific journals. They have been vetted and documented in excruciating detail by the largest, longest, costliest, most international, most interdisciplinary, and most thorough formal review of a scientific topic ever conducted.’
  • The American Meteorological Society has issued a statement on climate change that reads: ‘There is convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, resulting in increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other trace constituents in the atmosphere, have become a major agent of climate change.’
  • Indoor air pollution is responsible for 1.6 million deaths per year.
  • An externality is any cost or benefit resulting from a commercial transaction that is borne by or received by parties not directly involved in the transaction. A factory that pours pollution and CO2 into the atmosphere and toxic waste into the river is a classic example…we have been fooling ourselves with fraudulent accounting by not pricing those externalities.
  • The green economy is poised to be the mother of all markets.
  • We have exactly enough time—starting now.

Here is one example of how a green revolution could jump start our economy with new innovation.

Further study:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Climate Progress