Sunday, November 29, 2009

Signs of Hope in Our Energy Future

So what do we have to gain from taking the lead in solving climate change?

Here's a new pitch from the NY Times' op-ed page:

You want new industry in the United States, with astonishing technological advances, new mass production techniques and jobs, jobs, jobs? Try energy.

Mr. Ovshinsky knows as much or more about the development and production of alternative energy as anyone on the planet. He developed the technology and designed the production method that made it possible to produce solar material “by the mile.” When he proposed the idea years ago, based on the science of amorphous materials, which he invented, he was ridiculed.

But the thin-film photovoltaic solar panel was just one of his revolutionary ideas. He invented the nickel metal hydride battery that is in virtually all hybrid vehicles on the road today. And when I pulled into the parking lot outside his office in Bloomfield Hills, he promptly installed me in the driver’s seat of a hydrogen hybrid prototype — a car in which the gasoline tank had been replaced with a safe solid-state hydrogen storage system invented by Mr. Ovshinsky.

Within minutes, I was driving along a highway in a car that produced zero pollution. No carbon footprint whatsoever. How’s that for a wave of the future?

The point is that these (and many more) brilliant, innovative technologies are here. They are real, tangible. They exist. What’s needed now is the will to develop policies that will vastly expand these advances and radically reduce their costs. The United States should be leading the world in the creation of whole new energy technologies and industries, instead of allowing the forces of the old carbon-based industries — coal, oil, gasoline-powered vehicles — to stand obstinately in the way of real progress.

“Now,” Mr. Ovshinsky told me, “is when we have to build the new industries of the future.” He has always been driven by the desire to use science and technology to solve the real-world problems of real people, and that has meant creating employment and stopping the pollution of the planet. He and his late wife, Iris, formed a company (to become known as Energy Conversion Devices) in Detroit in 1960 with the idea of using their considerable talents, as he put it, “to do good, to change the world.”

As oil defined the 20th century, new forms of energy will define the 21st. The U.S. has the opportunity, the intellectual resources and the expertise to lead the world in the development of clean energy. What we’ve lacked so far has been the courage, the will, to make it happen.

This is the side of the climate change solutions story we need to be hearing about in EVERY media story that covers the Senate debate about climate change and clean energy solutions legislation.  To just talk about climate change as an environmental issue that isn't relevant to our everyday lives is irresponsibly misleading to a public who, for the most part, doesn't seem to know better.

At a time of great economic challenge, this same public is desperately seeking hope, and these types of solutions are exactly what the doctor ordered.  Properly informed, the public will be empowered to demand from Congress that its climate change legislation helps America's future clean energy-related industries realize their potential.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, solar panels by the mile! That's quite the idea. I bet it sounded a bit ridiculous when it was first proposed :)