Do you get the feeling that every project the United States might once have undertaken is now either outsourced or simply handed over to others elsewhere on the planet? GM and Ford, for instance, took the SUV money and ran, handing over the market in fuel-efficient cars, and part of our economic future, to Japanese and other foreign automakers. Now, it turns out that the federal government has done both of those companies one better. In a front-page piece in Monday's New York Times, "Budgets Falling in Race to Fight Global Warming," Andrew C. Revkin points out that, as the global energy crisis revved up, American dependence on foreign oil imports grew, and military research of all sorts rose by 260 percent "annual federal spending for all energy research and development… is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has sunk to $3 billion a year in the current budget from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979."
Practically speaking, what that means is: From solar power to wind power, the US is ceding a lucrative energy future to other countries. Whatever breakthroughs might be achieved in alternative fuel development are ever less likely to happen here. Imagine what our world might have been like, if -- instead of laughing him out of American living rooms --- we had listened to Jimmy Carter in that "peak" investment year of 1979 when he gave his famous "crisis of confidence" speech in a sweater. "To give us energy security," he announced that night, "I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel." Talk about what-if history…
In the meantime, here's an inconvenient truth to consider. In the America of George Bush and Dick Cheney (who undoubtedly expect to be driving their Ford and GM SUVs on some quail-hunting expanse in the middle of the country when global warming really hits), a former vice-president with a sideline expertise in climate change, is a totally exportable commodity.
On Monday, the British government released a major global-warming study, commissioned by Gordon Brown, leading candidate for Tony Blair's prime ministership. It suggested that, in the coming years, the impact of global climate change could make the Great Depression look like a tea party. The study's author, Sir Nicholas Stern, suggested that the possibility of avoiding catastrophe is "already almost out of reach." The Brits then promptly hired former Veep Gore, clearly unemployable in our country, to advise them on climate change and lobby on their behalf. Talk about a brain drain.
It's hard to imagine Gore as a foreign lobbyist jollying up to the Bush administration. Could it be that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are betting on another kind of climate change in the US soon?