The benefits of thinking green

Nothing would do more to ensure America’s security and stimulate more jobs than a national clean energy standard

Written by New York Times | Published on:July 4, 2013 12:04 am

Nothing would do more to ensure America’s security and stimulate more jobs than a national clean energy standard
Thomas L. Friedman

President Obama delivered his most important national security and jobs speech last week. I think he also mentioned something about climate change. The headline from Obama’s speech was his decision to cut America’s carbon emissions by bypassing a dysfunctional Congress and directing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement cleaner air-quality standards. If the rules are enacted — they will face many legal challenges — it would hasten our switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. Natural gas emits about half the global-warming carbon dioxide of coal,and it is in growing supply in our own country. As a result of market forces alone,coal has already fallen from about one-half to one-third of America’s electric power supply.

But I would not get caught up in the anti-carbon pollution details of the president’s speech. I’d focus on the larger messages. The first is that we need to reorder our priorities and start talking about the things that are most consequential for our families,communities,nation and world. That starts with how we’re going to power the global economy at a time when the planet is on track to grow from seven billion to nine billion people in 40 years,and most of them will want to live like Americans,with American-style cars,homes and consumption patterns. If we don’t find a cleaner way to grow,we’re going to smoke up,choke up and burn up this planet so much faster than anyone predicts.

“In reducing coal’s historic dominance,the president is formalising a market trend that was already taking shape,” remarked Andy Karsner,who was an assistant secretary of energy in the last Bush administration. His bigger message,though,was “no matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum,it’s useful for the nation to discuss,debate and consider a strategy for climate change. The consequences of inaction are potentially greater than all the other noise out there.”

Sadly,many Republican “leaders” rejected Obama’s initiative,claiming it would cost jobs. Really? Marvin Odum,the president of the Shell Oil Company,told me in an interview that phasing out coal for cleaner natural gas — and shifting more transport,such as big trucks and ships,to natural gas instead of diesel — “is a no-brainer,no-lose,net-win that you can’t fight with a straight face”. But,remember,natural gas is a fine gift to our country if,and only if,we extract it in a way that does not leak methane into the atmosphere (methane being worse than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming) and if,and only if,we extract it in ways that don’t despoil land,air or water.

But there is one more huge caveat: We also have to ensure that cheap natural gas displaces coal but doesn’t also displace energy efficiency and renewables,like solar or wind,so that natural gas becomes a bridge to a clean energy future,not a ditch. It would be ideal to do this through legislation and not EPA fiat,but Republicans have blocked that route,which is pathetic,because the best way to do it is …continued »

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