From: The New York Times - April 28, 2010
Op-Ed ColumnistFailure Is Not an Option
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
China is having a good week in America. Yes it is. I’d even suggest that there is some high-fiving going on in Beijing. I mean, wouldn’t you if you saw America’s Democratic and Republican leaders conspiring to ensure that America cedes the next great global industry — E.T., energy technology — to China?
But, before I get to that, here’s a little news item to chew on: Applied Materials, a U.S. Silicon Valley company that makes the machines that make sophisticated solar panels, opened the world’s largest commercial solar research and development center in Xian, China, in October. It initially sought applicants for 260 scientist/technologist jobs. Howard Clabo, a company spokesman, told me that the Xian center received 26,000 Chinese applications and hired 330 people — 31 percent with master’s or Ph.D. degrees. “Roughly 50 percent of the solar panels in the world were made in China last year,” explained Clabo. “We need to be where the customers are.”
And what kind of week is America having? After months of heroic negotiations, Senators John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman had forged a bipartisan climate/energy/jobs bill that, while far from perfect, would have, for the first time, put a long-term fixed price on carbon — precisely the kind of price signal U.S. industry and consumers need to start really shifting the economy to clean-power innovations. The bill was supposed to be unveiled on Monday, but it was suddenly postponed because of Graham’s justified fury that the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, had decided to push immigration reform first — even though no such bill is ready — in a bid to attract Hispanic voters to revive his re-election campaign in Nevada.
After all the work that has gone into knitting together this bipartisan bill, which has the support of key industry players, it would be insane to let this effort fail. Fortunately, on Tuesday, Reid was hinting about a compromise. But, ultimately, the issue isn’t just about introducing a bill. It’s about getting it passed. And there we are going to need the president’s sustained leadership.
President Obama has done a superb job in securing stimulus money for green-technology and in using his regulatory powers to compel the auto industry to improve mileage standards to a whole new level. But he has always been rather coy when it comes to when and how much he will personally push an energy/climate bill that would fix a price on carbon-emitting fuels. Without that price signal, you will never get sustained consumer demand for, or sustained private investment in, clean-power technologies. All you will get are hobbies.
The president clearly wants this energy bill to pass, but his advisers are worried that because the bill will likely result in higher electricity or gasoline charges, Republicans will run around screaming “carbon tax” and hurt Democrats in the midterm elections. I appreciate the president’s dilemma. But I don’t think hanging back and letting the Senate take the lead is the right answer. This is a big leadership moment. He needs to confront it head-on, because — call me crazy — I think doing the right and hard thing here will actually be good politics, too.
I’d love to see the president come out, guns blazing with this message:
“Yes, if we pass this energy legislation, a small price on carbon will likely show up on your gasoline or electricity bill. I’m not going to lie. But it is an investment that will pay off in so many ways. It will spur innovation in energy efficiency that will actually lower the total amount you pay for driving, heating or cooling. It will reduce carbon pollution in the air we breathe and make us healthier as a country. It will reduce the money we are sending to nations that crush democracy and promote intolerance. It will strengthen the dollar. It will make us more energy secure, environmentally secure and strategically secure. Sure, our opponents will scream ‘carbon tax!’ Well, what do you think you’re paying now to OPEC? The only difference between me and my opponents is that I want to keep any revenue we generate here to build American schools, American highways, American high-speed rail, American research labs and American economic strength. It’s just a little tick I have: I like to see our spending build our country. They don’t care. They are perfectly happy to see all the money you spend to fill your tank or heat your home go overseas, so we end up funding both sides in the war on terrorism — our military and their extremists.”
Much of our politics today is designed to make people stupid, confused and afraid of change. The G.O.P. has been particularly egregious on energy and climate. I believe if you talk straight to the American people on energy and climate, they will give you the right answers, and, ultimately, the support needed to trump the vested interests and lobbyists who have kept us addicted to oil. Obama has all the right instincts on this issue. He just needs to trust them. If he brings his A-game to energy legislation, Americans will follow — and then maybe we can have a good century.