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Upside Down on Clean Energy

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In America today, the truth is upside down on clean energy. I believe this is the primary reason we lost climate legislation in the Senate. Perception is reality, and reality is upside down.

Upside down. We have allowed ourselves to be successfully tarred as the people who will hurt the economy by the fossil fuel forces who will guarantee the economic decline of America.

As long as we are defined as the people who are going to raise everyone's energy bills, we will not succeed politically. And that's what we are now in the energy debate in Washington.

Upside down. As clean energy transformation is the best -- it may be the only -- path to strong economic and job growth, including rebuilding our industrial base and economic competitiveness. As the British economist Nicholas Stern has said of clean energy, "these investments will play the role of the railways, electricity, the motor car and information technology in earlier periods of economic history."

Clean energy transformation, if properly financed and combined with energy-saving technologies, will lead to lower energy bills for Americans than our current path, as McKinsey and others have repeatedly demonstrated. Lower net bills, cheaper transportation and price stability.

Upside down. Because sticking to fossil fuel business as usual will cause the economic decline of America. It will lead to much higher gasoline and food prices as world demand increases, losing the next industrial wave to China and Korea, the transfer of our wealth to the Middle East, trillions more for resource wars, and the enormous costs of climate adaptation and climate disruption. Sea walls, droughts, floods, snowpack loss, loss of agriculture and drinking water -- not exactly economic benefits.

Upside down. You know it. I know it. But we don't talk this way. We are on the economic defensive, and it's our own fault. We can't win if we're the people who will hurt the economy.

It's time that we became the pro-growth forces, and painted the tiny group of companies standing in the way, and their political apologists, as ANTI-GROWTH. Because that's what they are. Anti-growth for everyone but themselves.

The Wall Street Journal -- anti-growth. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell -- anti-growth. Exxon, Peabody, the Koch brothers, Midwestern utilities, BP, Chevron, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin -- all in the way of a better economic future for America. All leading us to further industrial decline, decaying infrastructure, job loss, and higher food and gas prices.

We have the facts to show it. When are we going to tell our story? When are we going to stop relying mostly on quietly presenting facts to officials in person or speaking largely to the converted. When are we going to seize the economic initiative in the public and Washington discourse?

Recently, I had lunch with a top editor of one of America's leading news organizations. I mentioned that it has been true for many years now that rooftop solar electricity is cost-effective in most of the country for new homes when financed by the home mortgage. The editor accused me of distortion, because "everybody knows solar is too expensive." But I'm right -- it's been true for many years, even at higher interest rates than now. Why doesn't this editor know? You can't blame the editor. It's our fault.

Of course we also have to put the climate and Congressional skeptics on the defensive, explain and defend the science, and challenge the media to stop featuring industry propagandists and skeptical bloggers as equal to published, peer-reviewed climate scientists. Of course we need Californians and residents of Phoenix and Las Vegas to understand their irrigation and drinking water days are numbered. Washingtonians to visualize the inevitable flooding of the nation's monuments and many weeks of over 95 degree temperatures. Chicagoans to expect heat wave deaths in the thousands like France. Farmers to understand what's coming.

But if we don't show that our path leads to prosperity, and theirs to economic decline, we won't win politically, we won't get the R&D and investments funds the industry needs, we won't end fossil fuel subsidies, restore the jobs of Americans and we will still be trying to get a price on carbon five years from now or even longer.

So let's get started. It's time to turn things rightside up for our country.

Adapted from my remarks at the Sierra Club Climate Solutions Summit, November 18, 2010, San Francisco.

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