The clean energy sector (think wind, solar, and other technologies that get us away from coal and natural gas) is one of the fastest growing industries in the world right now. In 2009, $162 billion was invested in clean energy globally, and even during the current economic decline the sector has only dropped about 6%. Clearly, clean energy is poised to become one of the world’s most important industries, but the United States has a lot of work to do if they hope to continue leading the energy field. According to a Pew Environment Group study released this week, 2009 marks the first time that the US has dropped behind any other country in clean energy investment, and it dropped in a big way. China invested over $34 billion this year, compared to $18 billion by the US. While the US is still providing much of the new innovation, we have not shown the commitment as a nation to advancing the energy field. What does that mean? In few words, the US government is lacking in action and leadership to support clean energy progress. As Phyllis Cuttino, the global warming campaign director from the Pew Environment Group, states, “The U.S. is at a critical junction–either it will lead or follow.” Falling behind isn’t just an issue of pride, either. Clean energy provides jobs, and increases national security by lessening US dependence on foreign oil.
The Pew report emphasizes the need for government support of clean energy innovation. Without long-term legislation supporting clean energy, investors are less likely to pour money into the research and development needed to keep the industry growing. That famous American entrepreneurship and innovation simply cannot reach its full potential without a policy framework. China, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain are all listed as countries that have “strong, national policies aimed at reducing global warming pollution and incentivizing the use of renewable energy.” (Incentives include setting targets for wind and solar, and providing funds for research).
It’s not that US legislators aren’t talking about a climate bill. The Waxman-Markey bill that passed in the House in June 2009 was hailed by many as a step in the right direction. Current talk of a bipartisan Senate bill being created by Kerry-Graham-Leiberman suggests that there is momentum to finally get climate legislation passed. Many wonder, however, if it will be powerful enough to make a difference.
Check out a comparison of the proposed climate bills here. You can also read the Pew report as a pdf file here.
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