A patriot’s declaration of war
What we are going through today is not just another recession; it’s very similar to what happened in the early 1930s. Instead of Wall Street deregulation causing stocks to be inflated, from 2005 to 2008, home prices became inflated due to a lack of mortgage regulation. Just as we did in the early 1930s, we need government participation on a huge scale, with a big, bold, easy-to-understand plan. Let’s leave the idea of stimulating the economy behind, and instead go for permanent rejuvenation.
The United States entered World War II with an initially high deficit, no money in the Treasury, and an unprepared military. It took us less than four years to win. Can we adopt what worked then to meet today’s needs? More importantly, can we agree that today’s needs are jobs and renewable energy? According to surveys, the majority of Americans agree we need jobs; the majority believe we should be energy independent; the majority say we need to re-industrialize, and the majority say that we need a lot more renewable energy.
A massive renewable energy plan responds to all of these needs. The plan has to be bold with the breadth and scope of the Manhattan project or FDR’s jobs programs, Eisenhower’s highway system, or Kennedy’s pledge to get a man on the moon within a decade. All were considered impossible at the time they were announced. And more recently, we’ve seen a hand-held communications device topple regimes when the population is united behind an idea.
Let’s knock out the usual objection that we need extensive research before renewable energy is economically viable. It’s economically viable and functional now. Obviously, research should continue, but we can’t wait for research as cheap oil dwindles. Millions can go to work now in fields that research, create and implement solutions we have today while we grow better approaches. Add the hidden costs of oil and coal to a gallon of gas, and the case for immediate action is clear: we need to clean up the environment, treat the health issues of burning carbon-based fuels, stop waging wars to guarantee our continuous supply of oil, and paying the high cost of keeping the Straits of Hormuz open to ship oil. Looks to me like fossil fuels are just as expensive as renewables, if not more so.
Other countries outstrip us in the use of renewable technologies: Israel has more solar energy than the United States; Scotland converts more ocean wave power to energy than the United States; China, Germany and Denmark create and utilize more wind energy than the U.S., and China manufactures more solar panels than does the U.S., shipping huge numbers of them for installation in the United States.
So while we are slavishly, and at great expense in cash and blood, protecting oil in the Middle East for the rest of the world and ourselves, we fall behind in the renewable energy race.
Another objection to renewables is the cost to transition from fossil fuels, given today’s national debt. But jobs are always more important than debt. Every armament manufacturer, steel mill and ordnance producer knew this when World War II started. Abraham Lincoln said, “Labor is more important than capital.” When everyone has a job, capital takes care of itself. True societal wealth comes from people on Main Street working and producing useful goods and services, not from people on Wall Street moving the money around.
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we had little or no money in the Treasury and the national debt was high because of the Great Depression, but with the clear and present danger of an international war, we transitioned in less than four years. Does it take another shooting war to move us? With the fabric of American life at stake and the human resources for change at hand, why do we wait?
Economist Paul Krugman said, “No country has driven itself into a debt crisis with a stimulus – nor has any country with significant debt regained investor confidence through austerity.” Imagine what would’ve happened if Congress had said to Roosevelt, “Sorry, we can’t go to war against Germany, Japan and Italy, because we don’t have the money right now and we don’t want to run up the deficit.”
Yes, change needs funding. Let’s re-purpose a World War II strategy and recreate a war bond style program: an Energy War Bond.
Think about it, we got nothing material from the money spent and lives lost in World War II. All the metal we mined and turned into weapons ended up overseas. The money we spent on soldiers’ pay wasn’t “recovered.” We didn’t get houses or refrigerators or cars or anything useful. We ended up with nothing (economically) to show for declaring war on Germany and Japan. But the unintended consequence was full employment, a market ready for new goods and services and many more people paying taxes – not taxpayers funding unemployment benefits.
You’re thinking, “Well yes, renewables would be nice but they don’t always work.” What? The sun is always shining somewhere; the wind is always blowing somewhere. Even on shady, calm days so many different types of renewable energy devices would be functioning at the same time in so many locations that adequate energy will always be available to a more efficient grid. Furthermore, existing fossil-fueled generators could continue as back-up. Have we lost so much confidence in our creativity that we can’t overcome challenges like these?
And what about transportation? Vehicles use the most fossil fuel and do most of the polluting. While it’s true that today’s batteries won’t carry a vehicle very far, there is a solution until there’s an improved battery. Convert service stations into battery charging stations. All-electric cars could be designed with a large tray of batteries positioned underneath the floorboard. Drive up to a forklift-type device that takes your tray of spent batteries out and replaces them with a tray of charged batteries, taking less time than filling up with gasoline – and you don’t even need to get out of the car. Battery charging stations could be charged with solar, wind or wave energy sources. The only fossil fuel needed would be enough oil to lubricate electric motors.
So we need a goal of 80 percent renewable energy within five years by declaring war on Arab oil dependence. Why wait 10 or 20 years or more when we can do it now and create so many jobs? If we won World War II with limited resources in less than four years, don’t tell me that we couldn’t design, create, manufacture and install renewable energy equipment in the United States in the same amount of time. In World War II, we had three countries as enemies. Today our three enemies are (1) big oil and coal interests; (2) ignorance about renewable energy’s usefulness now; and (3) a lack of political will to do anything.
Simple ideas generate amazing results. The question of World War II: should we go to war or not? The question of civil rights: should we outlaw racial discrimination or not? The question of the space race: Could we put human beings on the moon in a decade, given our infant or non-existent – technologies?
These are bold, easy-to-understand questions that Americans answered with action. Colin Powell said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers.” And George Lucas said, “Steve Jobs had a vision. He believed in things no one else could see.” I have a simple vision. I see solar panels on every building, windmills wherever there’s consistent wind, ocean generators along our coasts and little or no imported oil from the Arabs or anyone else.
Only we the people can change our country. We must elect people willing to move quickly to implement a massive renewable energy program. If none of your candidates have the vision to think big, then get out there with your friends and neighbors and go to elected officials. Let them know that they will not be reelected if they don’t act. And if that doesn’t work, put your name on the ballot. You probably won’t be elected, but the press and the online world will print your plans for renewable energy.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the ONLY thing that ever has.” Let’s get Americans back to work and permanently solve our oil dependence habit!
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Wendell H. Williams is a Sonoma resident and a former democratic nominee for the U.S. Congress.