One step forward, two awkward steps backwards

Nov 16, 2017

History favors innovation and moves forward. The 20th century has been referred to as the "American Century" for many reasons.

We innovated, we out produced and we were rewarded in building the world's richest economy in the history of civilization. Within our own country, we challenged each other and continually moved forward with inventions that created new industries.

We didn't invent cars, but we made more of them than anyone else within a short time of their invention. We pioneered air travel from Wright Brothers bi-plane to supersonic jets in such a short time that many Americans were able to see those rapid advancements in a single lifetime. Computers, the internet, and cell phones all have the footnote in history with the label "Made in the U.S.A!"

We should all be proud of that, but we should equally be aware that the history of civilization is a vicious competitive sport. One wrong gamble and your county's fortunes can take a terrible turn. The Spain built its Armada consuming vast financial, natural and human resources where they were sent it to the depths of the English Channel. The British became the masters of the sea and created a world-wide empire.

That’s what happened in business as well. In 1980 IBM negotiated with Microsoft to develop and license an operating system instead of purchasing the product outright. Blockbuster Video had the opportunity to purchase a fledgling business for $50,000. The year was 2,000 and the company was Netflix. Amazon.com was founded in 1994, but didn't make a profit until 2001. Who makes a profit in retail now?

When you look at the global economy, we are still number one, but are we heading in the right direction? The American Century was powered by enormous amounts of fossil fuels. At first, it was easy to get. It was also abundant and cheap. As demand grew so did the technology to find it and process it for the growing world economy.

Today, fossil fuels have increased in costs and fluctuated dramatically. It is a risky business to extract, process, and transport these fuels safely. Add the external costs to human health and the environment and it would be natural to expect that there would be a market for clean low-cost energy alternatives to fossil fuels.

Welcome to the 21st Century! Today investment world-wide favors the clean energy alternatives of wind and solar power. Clean energy has made impressive inroads around the world becoming a bigger and bigger percentage of energy that is used to power the world. The race is on for dominance in the emerging clean energy future.

Country after country is moving forward with investments and government policies that will provide for strong economies and healthier communities. The decisions made to today will determine who leads and who follows. These decisions will determine whether or not the jobs of the future belong to us or to China, Europe or even India.

Viewing the situation from the outside brings it into focus. The future equals change and change favors innovation that solves problems and makes life better. Stick with the old way of doing things, old ideas, old technology and you become extinct.

For all of the progress happening for a clean energy economy, for all of the Elon Musk's of our country, there are national government leaders trying to protect the economy of the last century. Recently, the Trump administration announced the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt said the plan overstepped its authority in creating winners and losers in the plan that was intended to reduce carbon emissions in the U. S. based on 2005 levels to 30 percent by 2030.

Coal fired power plants are the largest polluters in the country when it comes to air and water quality. Western Washington customers of Puget Energy currently support the third largest single air polluter in the nation, the Colstrip coal fired plants in Montana. While units 1 and 2 are scheduled to be retired n 2022, units 3 and 4 have not yet set a date for closure. The residents of Colstrip have their drinking water supply piped in from 50 miles away because their ground water is toxic thanks to their coal operations.

In March of this year, the Trump administration also proposed eliminating two energy research programs and the Department of Energy that have been seen as leading innovative renewable energy research. According to US News & World Report, "ARPA-E and EERE have been at the center of this race to revolutionize an industry sector that is creating millions of jobs in every state."

In a Washington Post opinion last week titled "China is winning the future," Fareed Zakaria pointed out the rate at which China is out spending the United States in clean energy. According to Zakaria, they have to. It is estimated that more than one million people die in China as a direct result of air pollution. In addressing the problem, however, China is betting on leading the world in clean energy technology. Today their investments are twice as large as those in the U.S. for clean energy. They employ an estimated 3.6 million workers compared to almost 800,000 in the U.S.

The figures in the U.S. are actually impressive on their own. New clean energy jobs outpace the national average of job growth by 17 times. Wind turbine engineers are expected to be one of the most sought after skilled laborers for the foreseeable future. Still, we could be doing much better.

Then there are the external costs. Repealing the Clean Power Plan will mean poor health for many Americans. The EPA estimated in 2015 that the plan would save the U.S. between $34 to $54 billion annually by 2030. By some estimates that means preventing 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 3,600 premature deaths, and 300,000 missed work and school days.

Clearly, China and other countries are looking and moving forward while our government leaders look backwards and stall our chance to lead for another century. This could cost us our future as the world's leading economy taking jobs from our children while they grow up sick in an increasing warmer and dirtier environment.

If we allow our leaders to look backwards while others move forward we will soon need a leader who will make America great again. That does not appear to be the case now. It is up to us. We have the opportunity to elect leaders who will allow our innovative mastery to succeed in any century. That starts with the options we have locally. Who supports the clean energy economy of the future? Vote for them!

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