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THE NEED FOR A MANHATTAN PROJECT
ON RENEWABLE ENERGY
Since 1980 America has slashed its research funding for renewable energy by over 75%.
The results have been grim. American dependence on foreign oil has hit record levels. In 1989 for the first time, the majority of oil consumed in America came from overseas. Today, it is over 60%. (At the time of Pearl Harbor we were a net oil exporter.)
Meanwhile, the lack of safe renewable energy has forced the developing world to adopt energy policies that have totally disastrous environmental consequences. A key cause of deforestation is the use of fuel wood for energy in many key Third World states. This has had particularly grim results in arid areas, where there is little rain. In China and India air pollution levels are far above minimum safe standards for human health.
Without a technological advance in renewable energy, it will simply not be possible for the poor nations of the world to develop in a safe and sustainable manner. It will not be possible for the world to cut its carbon emissions without damaging economic growth.
Fortunately, there have been great technological advances in many areas in spite of a total lack of government leadership in America. The cost of wind and solar power has dropped dramatically in recent years.
There is, thus, strong reason to believe that a major national commitment would produce desired results.
At the moment renewable energy makes up a tiny part of world energy production. Without major efforts in government action this will not change due to hundreds of billions of dollars of government subsidies to polluting energy technologies over the last 50 years.
In 1990 "expert" predictions said that only a tiny number of Americans would use the internet in the year 2000. Obviously, these predictions were nonsense.
We have the most advanced technology the world has ever seen. We have the money. In light of the near total neglect of renewable energy research in the last 20 years there is every reason to believe that a major national effort would produce dramatic results.
The following steps are needed:
I. REVIEW OF WHAT IS NEEDED
In order to make efficient use of government money there needs to be review of what is needed. A key question should be the nature of government incentives. Specifically, how much should go to tax incentives and how much should to government funded research?
II. PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP
The President needs to bring together major business leaders and seek information as to what is needed to mobilize business for this task. The President must communicate to business in the strongest terms the urgency of this task and the commitment of the administration.
III. PERMANENT EXECUTIVE FOCUS
Presidential focus must be continuous. The appointment of a council on renewable energy in the White House might be a good idea.
IV. ADEQUATE FUNDING
This is national security priority of the first order. It should be treated as such in the government's budget.
People claimed that we could never win the Cold War. When there is a mobilization of the national will, major achievements can be attained. In the quest for a national and global renewable energy revolution, defeat is not an option. This is something that must happen. America needs to devote at least one billion dollars a year on this for the next ten years and make this a top national priority for both the public and the private sector.