The Chairman and Chief Executive of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, along with a partner from a venture capital firm, John Doerr, recently published an Op-Ed article where they compared the tremendous strides China was making in cutting their GHG emissions and investing in new, cleaner technologies to the sluggish progress of the U.S. In pleading for setting responsible government policy, the two moguls proposed five “basic” changes:
1. Send a long-term signal that low-carbon energy is valuable. We must put a price on carbon and a cap on carbon emissions. No long-term signal means no serious innovation at scale, which means fewer American success stories.
2. Get the rules of the road right for utilities. We must make our utilities a driving force for re-powering America, driving efficiency through incentives, a renewable electricity standard and a national unified smart grid.
3. Set energy standards that grow steadily stronger. America should strive to have the most efficient buildings, cars and appliances in the world. The savings will land in the pockets of U.S. consumers and businesses.
4. Get serious about funding research, development and deployment, at scale. The federal government currently spends only $2.5 billion on clean-energy R&D a year - 0.25 percent of our annual energy bill. Sen. Jeff Bingaman's Clean Energy Deployment Administration is a good idea that would be fast and flexible. But more such programs are needed.
5. Fulfill President Obama's commitment to "become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy." We need a robust trade policy that seeks to open markets abroad - including the Chinese market - for U.S. clean-energy products through new trade agreements. Such policies unleash American competitiveness disciplined by market forces. This is widely endorsed by U.S. companies that compete internationally and by the broad-based President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board.
Clearly, one cannot overlook the fact that both GE and the friendly venture capital firm have profit on their mind. The piece is no doubt written from the perspective of what is best for the U.S. is also best for GE. However, one should not discredit Immelt and Doerr’s views and desires simply because they represent big business. Big business, while getting a lot of bad press lately, is also often responsible for driving emerging technologies and markets. In this case, with the 800 pound elephant (global warming) in the room and not budging – we may need some other equally large elephants (big business and Chinese competitors) to help move him out. If we agree that climate change is a serious issue needing serious solutions, it may be worth going along with and supporting the likes of GE in order to help prevent a global disaster and permanently detox ourselves and our industries from oil dependence.
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