It is not enough to understand, or to see clearly. The future will be shaped in the arena of human activity, by those willing to commit their minds and their bodies to the task. – Senator Robert F. Kennedy
The energy and environmental crises are not news to the American people. Anyone can feel the pain of our current dilemma by visiting a local gas station; yet Congress and political leaders across the country are focused on short-term solutions to our energy crisis. Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail alike have called on President Obama to drill for more oil to ease the “pain at the pump.”
If the United States does not get serious about alternative energy sources, then we risk not only intensifying this crisis, but also ceding hundreds of billions in profit opportunities (and millions of jobs) to China and Germany, who have accelerated their investments in green energy.
The German government recently provided one billion Euros in incentives to companies developing electromobility technology, such as clean vehicles and fuels. Germany is home to some of the world’s most innovative companies, such as BMW, Bosch, Porsche, and Deutsche Telekom, which are rushing to take advantage of the government’s green technology incentives. With its largest and strongest companies investing in new clean energy technology, Germany is cornering this new market. In addition, small and medium-sized businesses (Mittelstand) have been able to take advantage of these incentives.
German business has seen the writing on the wall. In the next few decades, clean cars developed through electromobility investments will likely replace petroleum-powered cars. The energy crisis, climate change, or a combination of both, will force us to move on to alternative energy sources and more efficient technology. When this time comes, the companies currently investing billions into technology development will profit immensely.
These companies will become the face of green industry, and the green market will explode in Germany, creating millions of new jobs for German workers. These aren’t start-up companies taking a long shot risk; these are giants like BMW and BASF seeing clean technology’s potential in their industries. It’s time for the United States to take note. We need to ask ourselves whether, when electromobility becomes the industry standard, we want to import cars from Germany, or manufacture them in America, with American technology and parts, employing millions of American workers.
Talk of government involvement in the free market inevitably degrades into a debate over big government vs. free market capitalism. Frankly, this debate holds us back, because it obscures the enormous opportunity for the United States in green energy technology.
President Obama has tried to make substantial investments in green technology, but this has faced ferocious opposition that would have us maintain our dependence on oil. Germany has shown the world the power of a progressive approach, making the free market and the government partners with a mutual goal of innovation. This approach is underscored through Germany’s use of government incentives that encourage companies to innovate, rather than regulations that force compliance. Government regulation can squash creativity by favoring incumbent technologies. With government incentives, companies that do not invest in new technologies will simply be at an economic disadvantage when the new industry expands. Thus, these companies have a competitive incentive to invest, rather than a one-size-fits-all legal mandate.
The German government has chosen not to approach the clean energy market with sweeping regulations, because they realize that regulations favoring existing technologies will hamper this emerging market. Rather, it uses government incentives to spur innovation in existing and emerging companies that hope to capitalize on economic opportunities opened by government investment and support. Government investment and incentives encourage companies to respond in kind by investing billions in the clean energy industry, which holds seemingly endless potential for America to regain its status as a global manufacturing giant.
In order to promote an American clean energy revolution, the United States could replicate many of the measures that the German government has implemented. Given America’s geographical advantages—thousands of miles of coastline, and wide, flat, open plains—wind and solar energy have the potential to emerge as booming American commodities. This has the potential to create millions of new manufacturing jobs, and to save the government billions each year in environmental protection and restoration.
The environmental crisis is becoming a drain on our government, with billions wasted cleaning up after the irresponsible actions of a few corporations. Clean energy has the potential to become a growing, stable market, with opportunities for American carmakers, steel manufacturers, utility companies, and other industries to build a new market in the private sector.
Making the United States energy-independent is vital to our long-term prosperity and security. Our dependence on oil has involved us with authoritarian and anti-democratic nations around the world, severely weakening us financially, and tarnishing our international credibility. If we wish to be the world’s leader for decades to come, the government needs to accelerate investment in green technology and provide greater incentives for public-private partnerships. This can be the centerpiece of America’s comeback, and a source of renewed strength for our country. Green investments and incentives will pay huge dividends over time, making us energy-independent, more efficient, and a global leader in fighting climate change. Ignorance will no longer cut it in the energy debate. It’s time for us to move on to a better, more progressive approach to energy.