Climate Change and the American Way

We Americans, myself included, are carefree users of energy. Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, we have enjoyed abundantly available and affordable energy so we're spoiled. Given that, a large degree of apathy toward the climate change crisis is neither unexpected nor intolerable. We want our lights to turn on, our homes to stay cool, and our cars to go, and we don't particularly care how the "sausage" is made.

What is troubling, however, is the alarming number of Americans big oil has deluded into not only denying basic science, but also becoming actual defenders of fossil fuels as somehow protecting the American way of life. On Earth Day, more and more "deniers" turn on extra lights and run their A/Cs extra long, running up their own electric bills just to spite the climate change movement. So called Coal Rollers burn secondary coal exhaust in front of fuel-efficient cars to, I don't know, protest another person's right to spend less on gas. Some Southern states now have laws specifically disallowing climate change considerations in their thinking. Even in our Congress, Michele Bachmann famously introduced legislation to protect a particular kind of light bulb.

The irony of this tragically misguided and dangerous "patriotism" is that it is a direct affront to one of the best parts of "American Exceptionalism," which is innovation.

Americans are inventors. We're creators. Out with the old and in with the new. That's so last year. That's so last week. More. Better. Cheaper. Faster. Our relentless pursuit of secular progress, unabated by theocracy, the "old ways" or dogma of any kind made us the greatest economic power in history, and relegated the rest of the world to being mostly fast-followers.

The light bulb, the telephone, the production automobile, the airplane, TV, the cell phone, household refrigerators, atomic energy, transistors, computers, humans on the moon and the internet are just a few of the countless largely American inventions just in the last 100 years or so. Which is to say nothing of myriad advancements in medical science that have increased average US life expectancy by a full 26 years in the last century. All these inventions have of course led to the industries, productivity and quality of life that have fueled our sustained economic growth since the late 1880s.

These inventions, and the thousands like them, have two things in common. First, they have ensured that we do basically NOTHING in our lives the way we did it 100 years ago. And second, most of our best American inventions have been enabled by the greatest private-public partnership in the history of the world.

The transistor came out of a need for solid-state switches, since vacuum tubes were too bulky and expensive to send into space. The internet was Arpanet. Medical research has been funded by the NIH. Interstate commerce enabled by the national highway system, and on and on.

Our government is an active participant in our ability to grow and create incredible things. Sometimes through direct investment, sometimes thru enabling infrastructure, and sometimes even through regulation. An FDA that makes us believe our food is safe. An FAA that makes us know that flying is safe. An EPA that makes sure our own inventions don't poison our air and water.

The idea that tackling climate change is against economic growth is an utterly false notion created and promulgated by the fossil fuel industry. Creating new forms of energy that are reliable and affordable for us, and sustainable for our planet is the next multitrillion-dollar industry. It requires massive public sector investments, and unparalleled private sector innovation. It is a generational economic opportunity that will not only save the world, but will also create millions of high paying jobs for decades to come.

Denying climate change is to deny that massive economic opportunity from all Americans. Other than drilling deep into the ground and burning fossilized hydrocarbons, we've invented better ways to do everything. Everything. At time when America's economic superiority is facing unprecedented challenges, are we really willing to believe that the 100-year-old way we get our energy is the best we can do?

China's investments in clean energy are equal to their torid growth. Germany has already shown the ability to fulfill an amazing 75 percent of its electricity requirements from renewable energy sources. Brazil, Russia and India are on the rise and Africa is coming alive. So instead of sticking our heads in the sands of denial and dogma, let's unleash our best minds and marshal our public resolve. Together we can seize this historic opportunity to invent the new energy economy right here at home. It is, after all, the American way.