|December 04, 2006|
The Democrats' Clean-Energy Mandate
|Now that the mid-term elections are over - and the votes counted - the Democrats step into power in both the House and Senate. |
The election results were predictable, though not guaranteed. Most Americans finally tired of a mismanaged war, Karl Rove's smear tactics, lies and corruption, and sex scandals that tainted the ruling party. And Bush's approval rating, somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, didn't help his party.
So where do Democrats, the victors, go from here? And what do they do with their new mandate?
Interestingly, I recommend that they look no further than a Republican -- California's Arnold Schwarzenegger -- for some ideas and inspiration.
One of a seeming handful of Republicans to come out victorious on election night -- Schwarzenegger turned around his prospects for winning by embracing a number of innovative clean-energy policies and initiatives. Back in late 2005, Schwarzenegger's prospects for winning reelection were dismal, to say the least. But he was able to turn that around by bringing on a new Chief of Staff (a former Democrat), changing his tone, partnering with Democrats, and I believe, most importantly, becoming the leading governor on clean-energy issues. Under his guidance the state passed the Million Solar Roof initiative which will result in tens of thousands of homes and business installing solar modules; the nation's first state mandated global greenhouse gas legislation to curb C02 emissions; and signed into law a tough emissions standards on automobiles to curb one of the greatest contributors to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Under his leadership, California has become a shining light in the world of clean energy -- and we hope the U.S. can now do the same.
Thomas Friedman has written that "green is the new red, white, and blue." With a global biofuels, solar, wind, and fuel cells industry now worth more than $40 billion in annual sales and projected to grow to more than $160 billion by 2015 -- and with a projected $40 billion invested in clean energy in 2005 by venture capitalists, governments, corporations, project developers, and others --clean energy has become the great unifier.
The vote this mid-term election was not only a vote against the Iraq war and Bush's policies, but it was a vote for a new way of thinking and a new way of doing business.
Chief among this new direction should be policies and programs that make America the most competitive in the world when it comes to the development of clean-energy sources and energy efficient technologies and that eliminate our reliance on polluting sources of fossil fuels and stop the flow of money to volatile oil-rich regions. The U.S. has always been a bastion of technology innovation -- and we believe it can lead once again with new, cost- competitive forms of advanced solar energy; plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; massive wind turbines; and cellulosic ethanol made from agricultural and forestry wastes and native grasses -- to name just a few.
In addition, the U.S. can lead in policy innovation to support the growth of clean energy. By shifting our support from conventional energy sources (nuclear, oil, coal, and natural gas which have received significant subsidies for decades) to the high-growth, technology driven solar, wind, fuel cells, and biofuels industries -- the U.S. can lead once again in the next-wave of growth, investment, and innovation. A range of policy tools at the Federal and state level, including renewable portfolio standards, R&D support, government-based procurement programs, and production tax credits, can drive innovation at multiple levels.
Since September 11, 2001 we've been coerced into a state of unrelenting fear. It's time that we wake up and move into a more pragmatic, optimistic, "can do" era -- and regain our place in the community of nations. One in which America does not dictate, but innovates. One in which America does not stand on the side of oppression but on the side of hope. One in which the great technological prowess of California's Silicon Valley, Boston's Technology Corridor, Austin's technology cluster, and other tech centers around the nation are unleashed for the greater good.
The U.S., with government leadership and support, has given the world a number of great gifts including air and space travel, computers, and the Internet -- and now with similar supports it can lead in the clean-energy revolution.
The late scientist, visionary, and nanotechnology leader Richard E. Smalley determined with his colleagues at Rice University that the number one and most pressing challenge facing humanity was access to clean energy. America can be the innovation engine that changes the course of history by creating crucial new clean-energy technologies, 21st Century jobs, and a democratizing force that provides solutions to our greatest needs.
May the Democrats take their new mandate and turn it into a vision for positive change. The world is waiting!
By Ron Pernick