Stimulating Green Energy

How promoting renewable-energy technologies will help the economy.

Can we stimulate the economy and create a sound green-energy policy at the same time? Of course. In fact, it’s not possible to have a sustained economic recovery that isn’t green.

Our entire economic system is unsustainable. It’s a global Ponzi scheme: investors (i.e., current generations) are paying themselves (i.e., you and me) by taking from future generations. To perpetuate the high returns that the rich countries in particular have been achieving in recent decades, we have been taking an ever greater amount of nonrenewable energy resources, especially hydrocarbons; natural capital such as fresh water, arable land, forests, and fisheries; and the most important nonrenewable natural capital of all: a livable climate.

Like all Ponzi schemes, this one will collapse soon–if we don’t voluntarily and aggressively switch to an economy built on renewable resources and a commitment to sustaining natural capital. Since action on global warming is inevitable, countries that lead the way in promoting clean technology with incentives and strong, innovation-promoting regulations will gain a competitive advantage. As President Obama said in March, “We can remain the world’s leading importer of foreign oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs preventing its worst effects.”

The stimulus plan and the president’s budget promote energy efficiency, renewable energy, and alternative-fuel vehicles, especially plug-in hybrids–all of which are key to getting us on the sustainable path (see “Can Technology Save the Economy?” p. 44).

States have been showing the way. Half of them have standards that require utilities to purchase certain amounts of renewable electricity. The result: in 2008 U.S. wind energy grew by a record 8,300 megawatts, restoring this country to leadership in that power source. Wind was responsible for 42 percent of all new U.S. generating capacity installed last year.

In the future there won’t be a debate about green versus non-green jobs. The only jobs will be ones that don’t consume nonrenewable resources and do help avert catastrophic global warming.

Can we stimulate the economy and create a sound green-energy policy at the same time? That, as the president has said, is the only strategy for attaining lasting prosperity.

Joseph Romm is a senior fellow at the ­Center for American Progress and editor of

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