During a Dec. 10 press teleconference call, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined leaders in discussing how the U.S. economy and labor movement might be bolstered by advancements in renewable energy. Together, they released a report titled The Green Industrial Revolution and the United States: In the Clean Energy Race, is the United States a Leader or a Luddite? It proposes utilizing the country's national strengths and ability to innovate at local levels, to drive leadership in clean energy manufacturing.
The report notes that the U.S. has been a powerful force "in technical innovation and market transformation since the industrial revolution. But when it comes to the transformation of the global economy from high-carbon, polluting energy sources to a more sustainable future, the U.S. risks falling behind. But a new green industrial revolution is gathering steam" in other parts of the world.
"Across the globe, countries are making investments in renewable energy," said Robert Borosage, founder and president of the Institute for America's Future. "Germany and China have made clean energy transitions, developing strategic emerging industries. There's a growing competition for leadership, and in the U.S., too little attention is paid to clean energy. Solar and wind have encountered fierce political opposition and have been caught up in budget conflicts. We need more serious commitment; we should build on America's bottom-up approach to economic development."
Looking back on the industrial revolution itself, Brown remarked, "Manufacturing created a middle class across the country. Manufacturing jobs have multiplier effects on the economy. And we can revitalize manufacturing and create more U.S. jobs by developing more clean energy projects. We need to create thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs right here, for next-generation workers" instead of moving such jobs overseas. "We just need to make sure we have the tools and resources."
In addition to economic reasons, it also makes sense to get on board with these projects for the sake of the environment, the leaders noted. Kate Gordon, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, said, "Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe the world is warming due to human behavior. This presents a huge opportunity for us to be the leaders in fighting climate change, through [implementation of] renewable energy. But to truly lead, we need a policy plan that supports local-level energy transition efforts, with many workers involved. And wind and solar industry jobs become vulnerable if not enough new projects are put into place."
Wind and solar also face another competitor: the natural gas industry, which vies for a sizable chunk of the void being left by the coal industry (which is increasingly seen as less cost-effective by companies). Brown said of the natural gas industry, "Natural gas is seen as a part of the energy picture and as a step toward making us more energy independent."
Environmentalists would note, however, the devastating effects caused by fracking - the method by which natural gas is obtained. However, the teleconference was not about relying entirely on natural gas, something Gordon was quick to point out: "We need a diversified system of energy," she said, "that doesn't depend on any one single fuel on a national level, but rather, looks at what's best for various regions."
"America is at a crossroads," the report concluded. "Will the United States choose to continue its progress toward renewable energy, and energy efficiency in the green industrial transformations that have already begun? Or will it cede leadership to other countries dominating the new markets?
"The countries that lead this transformation will benefit enormously, not just from breathing healthier air and drinking untainted water, but also from economic expansion in the forms of markets, profits, and jobs. The countries that lead this green revolution will lead the 21st century. Those that ignore it will become this century's Luddites."
Photo: OurFuture.org, BlueGreen Alliance, Institute for America's Future, and Center for American Progress.