Obama's Golden Opportunity

By: Alan Fortescue (Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author's, not necessarily Earthwatch's.)

There is a lot of talk about how president-elect Obama is going to sign into law a new economic stimulus plan in the first days of his administration. Some predict it will be in the range of $700 billion (and NO, this is not the already-squared-away $700 billion the Bush administration earmarked for bank bailouts and the like, but a brand NEW $700 billion). The idea is that with a wildly tail-spinning economy something dramatic must be done to stop the spiral towards an economic depression.

No one knows exactly what the final sum will be or exactly how it will be spent, but there are some guesses crossing the airwaves. Potential areas for support include the usual suspects: infrastructure, aid to states, money for health care and transportation, and perhaps some middle class tax relief or tax-incentives for job creation. All well intended and politically safe, but certainly short-term fixes.These actions seem more like what someone might do—after receiving several threatening notices from a collection agency—to pay down debt on a credit card, or student loan. Desperation spending. Doesn't it set up expectations for more of the same rather than shifting the landscape of American life in some positive and fundamental way? And really, borrowing another $700 billion from China or Saudi Arabia does seem like an odd way to bolster our economy if we are just going to use it to back the same tired system. That's like increasing the limit on your credit card so you can take out a cash advance to pay off the monthly minimum payments on that very same card.

So, I have an idea, and if anyone in the Obama administration is mining Treehungger.com for good ideas, AHEM! OVER HERE!

But before jumping into my idea—as a way of really thinking about what is possible here—let's just think about the transformative power of $700 billion. Another way of saying $700 billion is to call it 700,000 million; in other words, we could randomly choose 700,000 people and make them millionaires.  Sure, a million today is certainly of less value than 25 years ago when the bad guys in Walter Matthau films would steal $250,000 from a bank and act like they got away with a fortune. But it's still a lot of money.

My plan is not to distribute the money to 700,000 lucky individuals, but this hopefully gives you a sense for how much is potentially being placed into action here. It's a lot of money.

So here is my idea: let's spend $700 billion to transform our entire energy infrastructure to wind and solar (or other technology). And I am not talking about putting up a few towers here or there, adding a few solar arrays on a few buildings; I am talking about building an economy of green renewables. You still there? If this idea makes you nervous, please keep reading; sometimes the ideas that make us nervous are the most useful.

As a nation we talk a lot about energy independence, and one of the clearest ways to do that—and save the world at the same time—is through renewable energy sources, ideally wind and solar. Yet we also always hear that it's just too expensive to switch over, and that most people can't afford the big price tag, or if we do transfer over that the change will be slow and hard fought.

Oil companies in particular are fond of saying that energy parody must be reached (that is where the cost of energy from solar or wind would equal that of oil or natural gas). Of course, both solar and wind may in fact already be more efficient than oil or gas, once you take away government fossil fuel subsidies, but that is beside the point. Or is it?

http://www.globalsubsidies.org/en/subsidy-watch/commentary/revealing-high-cost-energy-subsidies-interview-with-trevor-morgan

The point is, with $700 billion we could significantly incentivize the low, low cost sale of this technology to individuals and communities in every town in America. In turn, these individuals and communities could begin to save on their energy bills (as a way of offering them more than a tax break or incentive; it would be giving them cash right in their pocket).

Just think: every neighborhood powered for FREE by a wind tower or solar array, Americans saving thousands each year in energy costs, and an immediate and dramatic cut in our national carbon footprint.

Many of you who believe in market economics may balk at the concept of "low cost" here so let me explain that by "low cost" I mean low enough to enable communities to install the proper equipment and still buy groceries, but not so low that they take it for granted.

But, if we are willing to GIVE away $700 billion to banks and rich business people, then we can surely give it to ourselves as a means of enriching our lives and making the world healthier and safer. (The money would NOT be going to foreign oil producers.)

In addition to making us all much wealthier by cutting our heating and energy costs, it would bring us closer together as a nation. Imagine a community of 10 household sharing a solar array, or a wind tower each with a shared responsibility of up-keep/maintenance.

Imagine the cleaner daily environment, devoid of oil spills, gas leaks, of the infrastructure needed to deliver both.

Imagine not having to be in debt to foreign countries, opening up opportunities for us, as a nation, to enact a more balanced diplomacy with these nations.

Imagine how we could test out and improve this technology and then bring it to the world, and be a leader in an era of even greater systems change.

Consider, for example, how this initiative would build an economy of scale (almost overnight) and the price of future production would go down significantly, making green energy more and more cost effective. Herein lies great potential amidst the many challenges that would certainly have to be worked out.

But this is a hard task worth engaging as its end would certainly justify the means, and would bring us much further towards being a sustainable nation than simply putting money into existing structures that even with the recent economic catastrophes, were already failing.

Write in with your ideas. Let's think out of the box by reinventing the playing field as a whole rather than penny-anti paying our way back into a broken system.

Image credit:Wikipedia, Highway 80