The Amazing Energy Race

The United States is falling behind. To catch up, we need to reorder our priorities, find cleaner and smarter fuels and develop new technologies.

President Obama delivered his most important national security and jobs speech last week. I think he also mentioned something about climate change.

The headline from Obama’s speech was his decision to cut America’s carbon emissions by bypassing a dysfunctional Congress and directing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement cleaner air-quality standards. If the rules are enacted — they will face many legal challenges — it would hasten our switching from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. Natural gas emits about half the global-warming carbon dioxide of coal, and it is in growing supply in our own country. As a result of market forces alone, coal has already fallen from about one-half to one-third of America’s electric power supply.

But I would not get caught up in the anti-carbon pollution details of the president’s speech. I’d focus on the larger messages. The first is that we need to reorder our priorities and start talking about the things that are most consequential for our families, communities, nation and world. That starts with how we’re going to power the global economy at a time when the planet is on track to grow from seven billion to nine billion people in 40 years, and most of them will want to live like Americans, with American-style cars, homes and consumption patterns. If we don’t find a cleaner way to grow, we’re going to smoke up, choke up and burn up this planet so much faster than anyone predicts. That traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet highway in 2010 that stretched for 60 miles, involved 10,000 vehicles and took 10 days to unlock is a harbinger of what will come.

Read full text at The New York Times