Industry Leaders Consider Why America has Fallen Behind at the National Climate Summit


Image credit: David DeFranza

Recent announcements that China would be dramatically curbing carbon emissions and investing heavily in nuclear and renewable energy highlighted a central theme of the Council on Competitiveness' National Energy Summit: that the United States had fallen behind in important industries shaping the world's future.

Indeed, parts of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's presentation were downright gloomy, with slide after cramped slide of downward-trending graphs. And he was not alone. In fact, Secretary Chu's presentation summarized the laments of many of the panelists, specifically the country's diminished manufacturing capacity and excessive production of carbon emissions.So rang the persistent refrain: the inevitable uncertainty caused by climate change; the excruciating slowness of stimulus deposits; the inability of government to agree on solutions; the lack of factories, our inability to build new facilities, and our need for engineers trained to manage them.

But, perhaps this was a byproduct of these leader's realistic assessment of the conditions affecting their industry.

The Case for Optimism

None of the panelists, in fact, could be called pessimists and, in the end, the atmosphere of the summit was largely optimistic. While the deficiencies were made clear, the message that sounded from panel after panel was that innovation and entrepreneurship were still present in the United States.


Image credit: David DeFranza

When pressed on the recent announcements from China, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made a passionate assertion of his faith in the American system that he concluded by saying:

Nobody has been as successful at solving...problems as America.

All of the speakers, from the coal-company CEOs to the government officials, the university presidents to the Silicon Valley investors, seemed to agree: The United States faces problems but we have the capacity to find durable solutions.

The Environment was Not Forgotten

It was refreshing to hear the attention that was paid to the environment throughout the summit. Concern over climate change, the need to curb carbon emissions, and the importance of developing alternative energy industries motivated all of the discussions.

Still, few tangible solutions were discussed. Though the summit made it clear that clean energy is a motivating force, and that the competitiveness of the United States depends on a green revolution, specific plans for making this happen were not introduced.

Maybe, as Secretary Chu suggested, this meeting will serve as a wake-up call, one that will ignite investment, drive businesses leaders, and push government action to support a brighter green future.

Read more about climate change:
How Climate Change Could Destroy America
Jon Stewart Takes Down Climate Bill, Interviews Steven Chu
Renewable Energy Revolution Sweeps the US
Clean Energy: Wall Street's New Love Affair

Tags: Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Economics

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