When future scholars document the history of global warming, one of the watershed years will almost surely be 2010. For over a decade, the primary goal of U.S. climate policy advocates has been to establish a strong carbon pollution cap and a binding global emissions treaty. Armed with large war chests and major electoral victories, climate advocates had one of the best opportunities to achieve these goals.
This agenda has collapsed. In the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate negotiations and recent developments in the Senate, it is clear that carbon caps in the U.S. and globally will not happen for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the IEA projects global CO2 emissions will skyrocket 40% above 2007 levels by 2030, and the EIA predicts China’s emissions will more than double over the next 25 years – which would make its emissions greater than the rest of the world combined.
When President Obama and key Senate leaders meet today to reach a compromise on energy and climate legislation, they should strongly consider increasing federal investment in clean energy technology to at least $15 billion annually. This is a comprehensive third way strategy to improve U.S. energy independence, economic competitiveness, and climate security, and it deserves bipartisan support.
We are a Democrat and Republican. One of us campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008, the other as a delegate for John McCain. One of us worked on energy and climate policy for the progressive Breakthrough Institute, while the other worked on similar issues for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. We disagree on a wide range of issues, and we hold different economic philosophies.
The biggest news from President Obama's Oval Office address is that cap and trade legislation is probably dead for the foreseeable future, and the administration is seeking new ideas.
Instead of using last night's prime-time opportunity to push cap and trade in the form of the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act -- as many climate advocates saw as their last hope for "comprehensive" climate reform -- President Obama pressed the reset button on energy and climate policy, saying he was "happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels." He made no mention of setting a price on carbon or establishing an emissions cap and trade system.
Last week, the flagship federal legislation for U.S. competitiveness containing broad support for science, technology, and advanced education - called the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 - collapsed in Congress after it was blocked from passage through the House, despite already being significantly weakened.
Enter the age of American polarization, where bread-and-butter competitiveness and innovation policy is subject to hyper-partisan politics and obstructionism, even in the face of rapidly rising global competition. America COMPETES, which was originally passed with strong bipartisan support under President Bush, may be yet one more casualty of today's extreme political polarization, which according to one major study is at the highest level in over a century.
A group of more than 100 university and college student government presidents submitted a letter (PDF download) today urging Congress to launch a national program for clean energy science and engineering education. The presidents - representing more than one million American students -warned Congress that advanced energy education is critical for U.S. leadership in the global clean energy industry.
"The United States is rapidly falling behind in the burgeoning clean energy industry - especially in comparison to China - and our educational system and workforce is not prepared to compete," declared the 107 presidents, including dozens of the country's top universities. "American students are ready and willing to rise to this national challenge, and we need the federal government to support our education and training."
China is building an ambitious "Solar Valley City" as a new national center for manufacturing, research and development, education, and tourism around solar energy technologies. as part of the Chinese government and industry's efforts to promote clean energy technology and grow the nation's global market share (see video below beginning at 10 seconds).
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the United States faces serious questions about the future of its economy and jobs market. Where will the good jobs of the future come from, how do we prepare the American workforce, and what is our strategy to maintain economic leadership in an increasingly competitive world?
A growing consensus suggests that clean tech will be one of our generation's largest growth sectors. The global clean-tech market is expected to surpass $1 trillion in value within the next few years, and a perfect storm of factors - from the inevitability of a carbon-constrained world, to skyrocketing global energy demand, to long-term oil price hikes - will drive global demand for clean-energy technologies.
"If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years," declared the world's wealthiest man during last week's TED 2010 conference, "I can pick who is president, I can pick a vaccine - or I can pick that an [energy technology] at half the cost with no carbon emissions gets invented, this is the wish I would pick. This is the one with the greatest impact."
Bill Gates is right. And he is not just talking about the impact on climate change, which does of course present a major threat. He is also talking about one of the most critical global imperatives to make poverty history: making clean energy cheap.
"If you could pick just one thing to lower the price of to reduce poverty, by far you would pick energy," said Gates in his introduction. Gates should know as well as any development expert, since the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - the world's largest transparent private foundation - has invested billions of dollars in extreme poverty alleviation since 1994.
Last week, the Obama administration introduced a proposal that every college student and educator in the country should know about. It represents the nation's first comprehensive federal program for clean energy education, and it is a critical step toward regaining American leadership in one of the most important industries of our time.
Over the past two years, a growing numbers of experts have called for federal programs to develop the country's clean energy workforce. In April 2009, President Obama took up these calls by announcing the first nationwide initiative to inspire and train young Americans "to tackle the single most important challenge of their generation -- the need to develop cheap, abundant, clean energy and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy."
In a promising development for aspiring clean energy scientists, engineers, and technicians, the Obama administration's 2011 budget request includes a proposal for the nation's first comprehensive federal education initiative focused on the clean energy sector, called RE-ENERGYSE (Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge).
The initiative was originally proposed by President Obama in his April 2009 speech to the National Academy of Sciences, which he said would inspire and train young Americans to "tackle the single most important challenge of their generation -- the need to develop cheap, abundant, clean energy and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy."
A major report released last week by the National Science Board concludes that U.S. global leadership in science and technology is declining as foreign nations – especially China and other Asian countries – rapidly develop their national innovation systems.
"U.S. dominance has eroded significantly... The data begin to tell a worrisome story," stated Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development in President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The Director of the National Science Foundation, Arden Bement, noted that "China is achieving a dramatic amount of synergy by increasing its investment in science and engineering education, in research, and in infrastructure, which is attracting scientists from all over the world."
You know the world is changing when the president’s first trip to Asia is defined by a new U.S. foreign policy dubbed "strategic reassurance" – convincing China that the United States has no intention of containing its growing power or endangering its foreign investments. As the New York Times put it, "When President Obama visits China for the first time on Sunday, he will, in many ways, be assuming the role of profligate spender coming to pay respects to his banker."
You also know times are changing when China, the world’s greatest polluter, and other Asian nations are poised to dominate the burgeoning global clean-tech industry by out-investing the United States. That’s the conclusion of a large new report we co-authored called "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," released this week by the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. The report is the first to thoroughly benchmark clean energy competitiveness in four nations – China, Japan, South Korea, and the United States – and finds the following: