Should Obama press for more energy exploration?
Yes: We must remove the barriers on utilizing domestic resources; No: U.S. can jump-start economy by taking lead in green technology
Karen A. Harbert is president and chief executive officer of the Institute for 21st Century Energy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
No: U.S. can jump-start economy by taking lead in green technology
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Abandoning fossil fuel exploration altogether is not feasible for America. But further government support of oil and gas drilling in places like the Alaskan wilderness or the American heartland in the name of economic growth would be a huge mistake.
Instead, for our national security, economic growth and a sound energy policy, what we need is to shift to promoting industries and technologies that focus on clean, renewable and alternative sources of energy. With continued sluggish economic growth, the U.S. has never had a better economic reason or opportunity to do so. As a Chinese saying goes, in a crisis there is both peril and opportunity.
Clean-tech is a global industry that holds the potential to fix our climate and other environmental challenges and build jobs of tomorrow.
A 2012 study for World Wildlife-Netherlands, by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, ranked the U.S. 15th in clean-tech sales relative to gross domestic product, with only 0.3 percent of our economy based on clean-tech.
Even if the United States is still strong in this area, it is not investing nearly as much as countries like Germany and China that have been betting on solar, wind and other clean technologies to lead their economies into the future.
Germany has had policies in place for decades that have resulted in the installation of somewhere around half of the world's solar panels in its country.
China, which ranked first at 1.7 percent of GDP in clean-tech, has not only become the global market leader in the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels but also dominates overall global sales in clean technology. These countries stand ready to be a supplier of in-demand next-generation green technologies for the world.
If electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt or Tesla's cars, the cutting-edge fuel cell equipment of Bloom Energy, or other green innovations were to obtain the same levels of government support and consistent public policy direction as the fossil fuel industry, there would be little stopping American leadership in this industry. Isn't it time that we made catching up and moving into the 21st century a national priority?
California is an excellent example of what the United States has the potential to become. The Golden State enacted the pioneering 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which sent unambiguous signals to the energy markets that the state is serious about combating climate change and that green technology will play a crucial role in accomplishing that.
California's new cap-and-trade program will reward the development and deployment of technologies that reduce carbon emissions because unused carbon emission allowances can be sold for a tidy profit. The state has also been at the forefront of providing financial incentives for green energy, promulgated green building code requirements, and set renewable energy portfolio standards for utilities.
Consider, too, the long-term human and economic costs of energy exploration: cleanup or recovery from pollution disasters or extreme weather caused by climate change.
The 2010 BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the serious concerns raised about hydraulic fracturing and shale gas exploration have not merely been the results of chance. Nor are the extreme storms, droughts and heat waves, which are expected to rise in frequency and severity with fossil fuel use-linked climate change.
Achieving sustainable economic growth and promoting job creation must not boil down to extracting the last drop of fossil fuels at all costs. We must consider the long-term environmental and public health costs that come with it. The U.S. cannot afford to invest and lock itself into many more decades of reliance on the dirty and unsustainable sources of energy of the past.
Tseming Yang is professor of international environmental law at Santa Clara University, and a former deputy general counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.