Barbara Boxer began yesterday’s briefing on investing in green technology by announcing that her third grandchild had been born around midnight. The seven Democratic Senators in attendance — and the two witnesses, venture capitalist John Doerr and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman — took the bait, alluding (almost, but not quite) ad nauseam to the impact this issue has on future generations.
All agreed investment in green technologies was the solution to our climate, economic, and national security crises. The upcoming recovery bill is an opportunity to launch the next great industrial revolution that Friedman refers to as E.T. — Energy Technology. The trillion dollar package, Friedman said, would “either give birth to a pig… or a gazelle…”
Both witnesses pointed to the need for federal investment in R&D, and also the need to rewrite the rules. It’s tough to compete against dirty energy whose price doesn’t reflect the true costs of fossil fuel delivery. (For a look at the true costs check out this morning’s hearing on the recent coal ash spill in Tennessee.)
“It’s like trying to launch the Apollo Program when Southwest already flies to the moon,” Friedman said.
With things like a carbon tax, cap-and-trade system, CAFE standards that increase annually, and a national renewable energy standard, dirty energy would reflect it’s true cost to society, become less attractive, and promote investment in clean alternatives.
“If you’re not in the cloakroom… where the rules get written… you are nowhere,” Friedman said.
Doerr gave the example of the solar-thermal industry being “stopped in its tracks last year” when tax credits weren’t extended.
One piece missing from this conversation was who gets the green jobs if the ET revolution does take off? I asked Friedman if the government has a role to play to help ensure lower-income community development through these investments.
“The important thing about the ET Revolution,” he said, “it stretches from blue collar jobs… putting up solar panels on roofs, insulating homes, to the most high-end double-PhD designing photovoltaics…. The role of government is to set the standard… the market will go out and hire the people and take care of the rest.”
While I don’t share his faith in the market, I do share his enthusiasm for the need to rewrite the rules to level the playing field for alternatives. Both of these guys really know their stuff, and Friedman is way colorful. It’s worth checking out.