March 18, 2009

Out of the Red and Into the Green

Melanie Pahlmann reporting

Hear the 1 minute show:

Last September, as our banks were failing, the always brilliant Thomas Friedman suggested that "we don't just need a bailout, we need a build up." Specifically, a build up of energy technology, taken on with the same brazen urgency as NASA's Apollo mission. President Obama seems to agree. His ambitious stimulus plan seeks to double our renewable energy output over the next few years. Friedman has been on the talk circuit for months now, recommending no less than "an overwhelming force" to green the economy: an energy tech revolution that will not only green our grids but grow our shriveled manufacturing base, which means new jobs.

In his Sept 28 2008 column, Friedman wrote:
[W]e don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement….

Indeed, when this bailout is over, we need the next president — this one is wasted — to launch an E.T., energy technology, revolution with the same urgency as this bailout. Otherwise, all we will have done is bought ourselves a respite, but not a future. The exciting thing about the energy technology revolution is that it spans the whole economy — from green-collar construction jobs to high-tech solar panel designing jobs. It could lift so many boats.

In a green economy, we would rely less on credit from foreigners “and more on creativity from Americans,” argued Van Jones, president of Green for All, and author of the forthcoming “The Green Collar Economy.” “It’s time to stop borrowing and start building. America’s No. 1 resource is not oil or mortgages. Our No. 1 resource is our people. Let’s put people back to work — retrofitting and repowering America. ... You can’t base a national economy on credit cards. But you can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart biofuels and a massive program to weatherize every building and home in America.”

The Bush team says that if this bailout is done right, it should make the government money. Great. Let’s hope so, and let’s commit right now that any bailout profits will be invested in infrastructure — smart transmission grids or mass transit — for a green revolution. Let’s “green the bailout,” as Jones says, and help ensure that the American Dream doesn’t ever shrink back to just that — a dream.

Friedman is one of the freshest pragmatic visionaries to emerge from punditry in a long dry time. If I could whisper in the President's ear, I'd say three words: Friedman, Energy Czar. Check out his new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America.

Here he speaks with Fareed Zakaria:

On Feb 5 2009, President Obama made these remarks during a visit to the Department of Energy:

After decades of dragging our feet, this plan will finally spark the creation of a clean energy industry that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years, manufacturing wind turbines and solar cells for example, and millions more after that. These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years.

We’ll fund a better, smarter electricity grid and train workers to build it – a grid that will help us ship wind and solar power from one end of this country to another. Think about it. The grid that powers the tools of modern life – computers, appliances, even blackberries - looks largely the same as it did half a century ago. Just these first steps toward modernizing the way we distribute electricity could reduce consumption by 2 to 4 percent.

We’ll also lead a revolution in energy efficiency, modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the efficiency of more than 2 million American homes. This will not only create jobs, it will cut the federal energy bill by a third and save taxpayers $2 billion each year and save Americans billions of dollars more on their utility bills.

In fact, as part of this effort, today I've signed a presidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energy set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This will save consumers money. This will spur innovation. And this will conserve tremendous amounts energy. We’ll save through these simple steps over the next thirty years the amount of energy produced over a two-year period by all the coal-fired power plants in America.

And through investments in our mass transit systems to boost capacity, in our roads to reduce congestion, and in technologies that will accelerate the development of innovations like plug-in hybrid vehicles, we’ll be making a significant down payment on a cleaner and more independent energy future.