Going green is patriotic and profitable

President Bush recently acknowledged and at the G-8 Summit other leaders agreed that the world must cooperatively develop measures to address climate change and humankind’s significant contributions to it. However, let’s actually forget the science for a moment. Let’s imagine that 2,500 international scientists did not recently verify that climate change is in fact happening, that human contribution is significant, and that if we fail to act, global warming will wreak expensive and disastrous havoc on the planet. Forget all that. Skeptics remain unconvinced so perhaps we should not try to convince them.

The most disconcerting aspect of the climate change debate is that America is missing what could be the biggest opportunity of the 21st century in terms of financial reward, innovation and leadership. Much of the rest of the world aims to wean itself from fossil fuel use. The benefits of America reducing its dependence are abundant. Take a look:

On financial reward, for example, the American auto industry’s ranking as the world’s top manufacturer is slipping because apparently bigger is not better: the top selling hybrid is a Toyota, not a General Motors or a Ford. While the U.S. invested in gas guzzlers, Japan invested in energy efficiency. With gas at $3 to $4 per gallon, consumers made the switch and Toyota won out in the end. Lest that happen with other industries, America must wake up fast to the consumer trend towards energy-efficient, and thus cost-efficient, lifestyles. With oil prices on the rise, the money is in efficiency.

On innovation, Europe and China are exploring fossil fuel alternatives at a fast and furious pace. Germany’s installed wind power capacity now accounts for roughly a quarter of the world’s total installed capacity, with Spain second. Meanwhile, Denmark is leading the pack as the world’s top wind turbine manufacturer. China, no convert to climate change but certainly a technological opportunist, just announced a multi-year $200 billion investment in the solar power industry.
America’s windy plains and sunny South offer an untold yield worth the reaping. The power is here on our shores; it’s time to harness it.

On leadership, the conflict surrounding the G8 summit and America’s initial reticence to embrace a post-Kyoto treaty illuminates a troubling trend. America, never one to be outshined, is in fact, being outperformed. The European Union is currently the trend-setter, establishing aggressive emissions reduction goals for 2050. The Middle East’s Gulf countries, perhaps the authority on the imminent peak in world oil production, are throwing billions into alternative energy sources.
Even Japan has outlined a plan to cool the planet. There are benefits to leadership and these countries know it. EU citizens will be happier with cleaner air. Gulf investors will be pleased with a diverse portfolio resistant to shocks. Japan’s ministers will be content knowing it is once again a player on the world’s political stage. With America’s leadership in question in the Middle East, the country is in need of some re-branding. The U.S. could take advantage of this profitable opportunity.

The world will continue to depend heavily on some fossil fuels, coal in particular, and this presents the U.S. with an opportunity to combine financial rewards, innovation, and leadership in developing efficient carbon sequestration technologies. With China building two 500-megawatt coal plants a week and impending global restrictions on carbon emissions, carbon sequestration offers a way to strip off carbon dioxide at the coal plant and sequester them under the Earth in a geologic repository. The U.S. is already a leader in the sequestration part of this technology – this is no time to squander that lead. Instead, the U.S. could be the leader in developing and selling this technology to major coal users worldwide.

While “going green” is certainly good for the planet and good for the people who live on the planet, there’s a case to be made that even the climate change skeptics can believe in: Going green is also good for profits and patriotism. If America leads the world in energy efficient technology manufacturing and installation and renewable energy production, the country as a whole will benefit. That means more industry, more exports, more jobs, more money and, consequently, more pride. The president’s call to action represents the first step on climate change — now more concrete goals must follow. There’s an opportunity for leadership, America, and your patriots are waiting.

Bartlett is a member of the House Science and Technology Committee, Udall is a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Macfarlane is associate professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University.

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