Ever since the economy really began to weaken and gas prices approached $3/gallon and then $2/gallon, there has been much commentary on businesses making cutbacks and slowing their implementation of sustainability efforts. I have written that this time of economic crisis will separate the companies that are truly committed to good environmental stewardship from those that were only interested in making green efforts while the economy was strong.
During the presidential campaign, both candidates made renewable energy investments central pieces of their legislative agendas, employing images of wind turbines and solar panels in their TV ads and stump speeches. However, since the credit crisis exploded and energy prices plummeted, even a pioneer like T. Booke Pickens, who spent tens of millions of dollars over the last few months advocating for public support of wind power, has delayed his landmark project. The New York Times ran a story on Tuesday, 11/24, about how the “economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel.”
My hope is that the U.S. Government, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, does not give up on its efforts to wean our country off oil, most of which comes from foreign sources. I was encouraged by a message that Obama recorded last week for the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.
In his message, Obama states, “Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.” He goes on to say that his goal is to reduce the United States’ emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. He also committed to investing $15b each year on alternative energy, which he said will not only help to reduce our use of oil, but will also help create up to 5 million new jobs. Regardless of the accuracy of the jobs figure, I hope that the U.S. sticks to this plan, and does not use low gas prices and a difficult economy as an excuse for inaction. We should look towards Brazil as an example of how a country makes energy independence a goal and sticks to that plan, regardless of the economic circumstances. Here’s a great story from the Wall Street Journal in 2006 which summarizes Brazil’s sugar ethanol industry development. I remember reading this in an airport almost three years ago and was able to find a free link on Yale’s website – I found the piece so interesting, and wanted to share it with you.
The moral of the story for me is that we have learned our lesson from our addiction to oil – from the recent price spikes, as well as the fact that it supports dangerous regimes that hate America (not to mention the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels), and we need to make a change. It will cost a lot of money and require sacrifice, but it is one of the greatest issues of our time and must be addressed.