Navigant Consulting calculates that the recent
eight-year extension of the federal solar tax
credit will, by itself, create 440,000 permanent
jobs. Some of the greatest opportunities are for
those who will install and maintain photovoltaic
and solar thermal-electric facilities.
One of the most hopeful
portents is that the
entrepreneurs and venture
funds that defeated the
monopolies at Ma Bell and
IBM are turning their sights
on Exxon and Peabody.
began and ended with Arctic drilling was not
generally considered among his more glaring
flaws. Where do we go from here?
Launch a Solar Revolution
RANDY MON TOYA/SANDIA NATIONAL LABORATORIES
On July 17, Al Gore delivered the coda to
An Inconvenient Truth. By far the boldest proposal in his speech was this: “I challenge our
nation to commit to producing 100 percent
of our electricity from renewable energy and
truly clean carbon sources within 10 years.”
Reclaiming a Missed Opportunity
The energy situation in the United States
is much worse today than it was when Presi-
dent Jimmy Carter left office. Since 1981, our
oil imports have grown from 1.6 billion bar-
rels per year to 3. 7 billion barrels. Our annual
greenhouse gas emissions have grown from
4. 7 billion metric tons of CO to 5. 9 billion
In 1979, President Carter announced that
by the year 2000 the United States would
get at least 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources. The Solar Energy Research
Institute (since renamed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory), which I then
served as director, was at the heart of this effort. Leading a team of distinguished scientists
and analysts drawn from national labs and
major universities, SERI prepared the technical and policy blueprint to meet or surpass the
20 percent goal.
Halfway through his first year in office,
President Reagan abandoned the goal. Jim Edwards, the dentist who served as Reagan’s first
secretary of energy, reduced SERI’s $125 million budget to just $25 million and fired half its
staff. President Reagan ordered the solar water
heaters ripped off the White House roof.
The successive administrations of George
H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, bobbing along on
a sea of cheap oil, did little to promote energy
efficiency or to shift America’s economy to renewable energy. And for the past eight years,
the United States was led by a president whose
failings were so great that an energy policy that
To no one’s surprise, Joe Lucas, spokesman
for an association of coal-burning utilities,
harrumphed that Gore is “not in the mainstream.” Lucas is right. Mainstream thinking
is precisely what got us into this mess. Gore
is operating in the gutsier tradition of Jimmy
Carter’s “moral equivalent of war.”
What does “the moral equivalent of war”
actually mean? Let’s consider World War II.
In the four years after Pearl Harbor, America produced 324,750 military aircraft, compared to just 4,000 the previous year. America
produced more bombers than did all other
nations on both sides of the war combined.
We also quickly produced 22 aircraft carriers,
349 destroyers, 422 submarines and 88,410
tanks and self-propelled guns. By the end of
1945, the war was over.
Today, more clearly than even in 1941, a
fully engaged United States is essential to a
global success in the effort to avoid irreparably damaging the world’s climate. Without
American engagement, climate catastrophe is
inevitable. With America mobilized, nothing
Moreover, just as WWII catapulted America out of the Depression, this moral equivalent of war would offer a wonderful tonic for
an economy plagued by recession, inflation,
skyrocketing debt and a growing negative
balance of trade.
Navigant Consulting calculates that the recent eight-year extension of the federal solar
tax credit will, by itself, create 440,000 permanent jobs. In an economy in which the federal
government has given gigantic tax breaks to
conventional fuels for the past century, that
solar tax break is a sound conservative policy
— but it falls far short of a policy targeting 100
percent carbon-free electricity by 2020. The
latter would employ countless millions.