Finally, Two Leaders Offer Bold Visions for Ending Energy Crisis

During this summer driving season, two things are crystal clear: 1) Americans are worried about soaring energy prices, and fed up with the lack of solutions and 2) how little leadership we are seeing on the issue from the White House.

Remember, it’s not that we don’t know how to break our oil addiction or build a vibrant, clean energy economy. Experts have already created the clean-car technologies and written the draft policies. Renewables are ready to be unleashed into the market place. That part is done. What is missing is leadership—guidance from those who can motivate our country to strive and achieve something truly great.

The changes we need right now won’t be incremental; they have to be transformative. Yet the White House keeps offering the same policies—drill more, burn more fossil fuels—that got us into this mess.
Luckily, two strikingly different figures have stepped into the breach this month and offered bold visions for tackling the energy crisis this month.

The Oilman Follows the Wind

The first is the unlikely T. Boone Pickens, a geologist who has been in the oil business his entire career. Pickens asserts that we cannot drill our way out of this energy crisis--in the Arctic, in the OCS, or anywhere. He believes the only way for America to advance is to move to different energy technologies. He is putting his money where his mouth is. Pickens is:

•    Investing $10 billion in what he calls the largest wind farm in the world
•    Launching a public education campaign, promising that America will see as much of him in the coming months as they will of Obama and McCain.

The Nobel Laureate Gets Specific

The second bold plan comes from a more likely, but no less influential voice: Al Gore. Last week he gave a rousing speech that called for America to become carbon free by 2018. What I like about his plan is it calls for a bold target, it recognized the potential of renewable energy, and it takes the automobile sector down a very different path with plug-in hybrids.

Talking with Jimmy Carter About How We Got Here

But good ideas like Gore’s and Picken’s don’t succeed without sustained leadership. Last week, I had the chance to talk with President Jimmy Carter about our current energy crisis. It was both enlightening and disturbing to hear from the man who steered our country through the last energy crisis.

Carter mentioned that during his time in the White House, he put in place a host of policies to expand renewable energy. Thanks to this leadership, a thriving solar industry was up and running by the early 1980s. But then the Reagan administration obliterated almost every single R&D and tax incentive programs for renewable energy. 

In the Absence of Leadership, America Gets Left Behind

Where has that left us? Tied to the same old dirty fuels 28 years later. I just got back from Europe:
•    In Europe, people understand that renewables are readily available and actually producing as much as 20 percent of their energy.
•    In the US, there is still a question mark about whether renewables work, because we have done a terrible job of putting the right policies in place.

We have missed out on nearly three decades of progress because of the absence of leadership on America’s energy system. Gore and Pickens offer interesting alternatives, but as Carter reminded me, it doesn’t help us if these ideas become the road not taken.

Congress can prevent another missed opportunity. Contact your representatives and let them know they should be drafting bold visions for a clean energy future.