Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Power of Green

The New York Times Magazine is running an excellent article this weekend over how today's very divided and internationally rocky America is ripe for a galvanizing, cross-party Green Revolution... even given the economic realities of the challenge. This makes a lot of sense to me: former U.S. Military leaders, Democratic candidates, and even the leading Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, agree that energy independence (and clean energy) is absolutely crucial to national security, but none of the candidates seem to volunteer a real plan. If we really wanted to "support our troops" and promote democracy, why wouldn't we work to reduce our involvement in an oil trade that will almost surely grow more tense, authoritarian and destructive over time? Sure there's a lot of money and existing economic and political structure in the way of change, but democracy tends to work pretty well when people are captivated, pay attention, and make demands.

Some quotes from the article:

"A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism."

"You can illustrate the First Law of Petropolitics with a simple graph. On one line chart the price of oil from 1979 to the present; on another line chart the Freedom House or Fraser Institute freedom indexes for Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela for the same years. When you put these two lines on the same graph you see something striking: the price of oil and the pace of freedom are inversely correlated. As oil prices went down in the early 1990s, competition, transparency, political participation and accountability of those in office all tended to go up in these countries — as measured by free elections held, newspapers opened, reformers elected, economic reform projects started and companies privatized. That’s because their petroauthoritarian regimes had to open themselves to foreign investment and educate and empower their people more in order to earn income. But as oil prices went up around 2000, free speech, free press, fair elections and freedom to form political parties and NGOs all eroded in these countries."

"Up to now, said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, we as a society “have been behaving just like Enron the company at the height of its folly.” We rack up stunning profits and G.D.P. numbers every year, and they look great on paper “because we’ve been hiding some of the costs off the books.” If we don’t put a price on the CO2 we’re building up or on our addiction to oil, we’ll never nurture the innovation we need."

"President Bush claims he’s protecting American companies by not imposing tough mileage, conservation or clean power standards, but he’s actually helping them lose the race for the next great global industry. Japan has some of the world’s highest gasoline taxes and stringent energy efficiency standards for vehicles — and it has the world’s most profitable and innovative car company, Toyota. That’s no accident."

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