It's About the Economy, Not Drilling

Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times that outrage is the proper response to last week’s Congressional debate on offshore drilling. I agree. It is outrageous that in the face of the combined energy and economic crises, our representatives are fighting over a false promise that will neither save consumers money at the pump nor address the other looming crisis of our time: global warming.

Congress was dug in fighting over drilling when it should be talking about a new energy economy that will truly drive down energy prices and create jobs.

In last week’s debate and this week’s calls for Congress to return from its recess for the sake of drilling, it seems like our elected officials are forgetting two important realities: 1) America’s energy and economic troubles are interrelated, and 2) so are the solutions. 

Clean Tech: Engine of Economic Growth, Not a Luxury

Some people ask whether we can afford the ‘luxury’ of investing heavily in clean energy now that capital markets are in trouble and the economy increasingly in turmoil.

My answer is that we cannot afford NOT to make these investments. In fact they’re the best, most lasting economic stimulus plan I can think of. 

The fact of the matter is, over the next 20 years, America will spend an estimated $3 TRILLION dollars on energy infrastructure.

It’s our choice whether to spend that money smart – on clean, efficient technologies that cut emissions, create new jobs and new wealth for our society – or spend it dumb, on more of the same 19th century technologies. And every dollar spent on a dumb idea that moves us back is a dollar taken away from smart solutions that move us forward.  

We Are Not Just Talking about Solar Panels 

Remember, a clean energy economy isn’t just about wind farms and solar roofs. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs for architects and engineers; drywall and air conditioning contractors; software designers and lighting companies.

These are opportunities in precisely the sectors that are experiencing the greatest difficulties right now. These are jobs in businesses that pay lasting dividends to the U.S. economy through increased competitiveness and reduced dependence on energy imports.

Here is an example of how just one clean energy solution—increasing energy efficiency—can boost the economy:

  • Department of Energy studies show that energy efficiency measures can create up to four times as many jobs as constructing and operating large central power stations.
  • When businesses and consumers save money on their utility bills, they have more money to invest in other parts of the economy--a development that has been shown to generate jobs.

Putting the Green Thumb on the Invisible Hand

At a time when the nation’s economy is sliding into recession it is doubly critical that we seize these clean tech opportunities now and for the long term. It is time for us to realize that that economic growth and clean, sustainable energy go hand-in-hand.

I believe in the power Adam Smith’s invisible hand because I’ve seen it work. But I believe just as deeply that we need that hand to have green thumb in order to make sure it’s pointed in the right direction. 

But we have to move quickly. There are several tools for jumpstarting sweeping investment in clean energy, ranging from the renewable energy tax credit which is up for reauthorization to a comprehensive bill to tackle global warming that will likely come to vote in the next Congress.

These measures should appeal not only to clean energy advocates, but to economists and business leaders as well.