We Just Keep Falling Behind in Clean Energy

By Chris Mooney | December 9, 2010 1:16 pm

There’s a new Pew report out about the tremendous potential for growth in the domestic (and global) clean energy industry. The projection is that it could be a $ 2.3 trillion industry by 2020–if the policies align. Potential U.S. growth is enticing (pegged at $342 billion in new investments by 2020) but only if we get our butts in shape and start creating the right incentives. Otherwise, we’ll grow, but not nearly as fast.

No matter what we do, though, China’s growth is expected to be way higher….$620 billion new investment potential.

You might think this would be a rallying cry, but you’d be completely wrong. There’s no serious prospect of passing clean energy reform legislation in the next two years in this country. Just as we catapulted ahead in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a result of the threat posed by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, so we’re plunging behind right now.

It’s sad to watch, and we’re really going to regret it.

More on the Pew report here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Environment

Comments (8)

  1. I totally agree, Chris. This is one of those potentially defining times for America.

    We all know that our economy is struggling. The nation is looking at growing ever further into debt. It seems that job and economy stimulating clean energy reform would be an important item for politicians to consider. However, clean and green mainly means politically polarizing in Washington.

    That said, there are many US companies working successfully in the clean energy space, and blazing a path forward. I’ve been profiling many of those companies on my twit.tv show Green Tech Today. Becky Worley and I are covering our picks for the top 25 green tech innovators: http://www.twit.tv/gtt

  2. Sorry but practical results from the countries that went full power ahead in this field are disaster. Spain lost 3 “normal” jobs for every “green job” created and it is at the edge of economic collapse. Iceland (with enormous eco-friendly energy reserves in form of geo-thermal) tried slower approach than Spain – economic collapse still followed.
    Governments can’t fight market economy forces. If and when green alternatives are able to generate business – they will. It is that simple. No Govt. effort needed. Comparing it to Space exploration is nonsense. It is NOT a new frontier. Transition from coal-only to coal and oil haven’t happened because Govts. decided that it should. Economic forces decided and research followed. So it must be with green energy sources. They will dominate eventually but more harm is done trying to bring them forth at the time when they can’t sustain themselves vs. “dirty” competition. It is like trying to improve on forces of evolution by bringing forth large mammals at the time when dinosaurs were dominant. They wouldn’t fare well despite being better and more advanced.

  3. Robert E

    Iceland’s economic collapse was caused in most part by the deregulation of the banking system in 2001, which let the banks run wild like they did here in the States. It had nothing to do with green energy (or any part of the energy sector).

  4. Sundance

    The PEW report was nothing but an 80 page marketing piece for renewable energy and pretty much worthless in my review. To bad there aren’t the type of disclosure requirements for these types of policy marketing pieces that were more like the IPO documentation that I wade through before I invest in a company that goes public, because then they would be forced to document all the negatives and pitfalls of renewables. PEW did not address any of the engineering limitations, exaggerated claims, sighting issues, resource limitations, etc for many of the renewable technologies they are marketing in their report. Worthless IMO as a tool for good decision making.

  5. Chris,

    What is the standard for clean energy reform legislation? Writing off the possibility seems to be engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy, one driven by tit-for-tat rhetorical exchanges with “denier,” “anti-science” Republicans, that promotes an extraordinary, fortune-telling claim that a “do-nothing” Congress offers no hope for energy legislation for at least two years.

    The choices of Upton and Whitfield by the GOP to head up Commerce and Energy, Republican members who consider climate change a serious threat to the country and do not dispute scientific agreement on the issue–appears to be an event deeply contrary to the “War” thesis that you continue to promote.

    You are contributing as a commentator and advocate to conditions where any action related to energy–from stimulus investment to other bills–becomes subsumed within a larger polarized, proxy debate over climate change, conditions of identity politics and hyper-partisanship that you continue to promote.

    Is this effective public and policymaker engagement? Is this a strategy you would advise, for example, scientists or organizations such as the American Geophysical Union to pursue?

    What ever happened to the “dialogue”-focused Chris Mooney that wrote a much-publicized commentary on the topic last year?

  6. Bobito

    If you just say to yourself that China is using the money we are sending them to pay back our debt, then we are doing pretty well… ;)

    Why did we get to the moon first? Why did we win the cold war? Because we had the cash to do it.

    Best analogy I can come up with is spending all your money to fix a car, but then you can’t make the payment so it gets repossessed. We have bigger problems at this point, green energy can wait. And perhaps, if we are lucky, China will figure it out and we can piggy back on them for a change.

  7. Area Man

    Sorry but practical results from the countries that went full power ahead in this field are disaster. Spain lost 3 “normal” jobs for every “green job” created and it is at the edge of economic collapse.

    Oh, right. You must be referring to that discredited report put out by the climate denier economist, the one who falsely claimed that a solar power company had sent him a “dismantled bomb”? That guy has about as much credibility as a UFO nut.

    Iceland (with enormous eco-friendly energy reserves in form of geo-thermal) tried slower approach than Spain – economic collapse still followed.

    The idea that green energy caused the 2008 financial collapse is easily the stupidest thing I’ve read on the internet this week.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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