In his latest book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Tom Friedman argues that the US needs to catch up significantly in areas like modern infrastructure, education, scientific research, energy efficiency, political effectiveness and fiscal responsibility. Part one provides a brief overview of this legacy, and Friedman’s “frustrated optimism” going forward. Part two highlights Friedman’s views of current job market trends and provides insight for job seekers, like the most sought-after traits by corporate recruiters.
Part 3: Leadership in Alternative Energy Sources
Whether or not the world is headed for environmental catastrophe or the potential nuclear threat from rogue states and terrorists gets worse, the United States and other nations of the world would certainly benefit from the development of more sources of reliable, affordable and cleaner energy. Population growth alone is enough of a reason to better diversify energy sources, as the world is expected to grow from a population of 6.8 billion today to 9.2 billion by 2050.1 Imagine the demand that the rising middle classes of the world will create for electricity, transportation, water and food over the next 40 years and beyond. Tom Friedman, in That Used to be Us, pinpoints rising food prices as a factor and the “last straw” that pushed populations across the Arab world into the actual and attempted overthrow of several governments over the last year.2
While the politics of energy in the United States seems more explosive than the actual fuels being debated, there has been meaningful progress in certain areas. In contrast to its performance in the financial arena, California has been leading the nation in energy efficiency. According to Friedman, policy initiatives over the last 20 years have helped drop electricity consumption in refrigerators by 80%. Performance standards in building codes have helped cut energy use in newer homes by 75% compared to the homes built under the older codes.3 California has also led the push for higher fuel efficiency standards, where the statistics are quite amazing. Thanks to better engines, transmissions and aerodynamics, the technology is there to get to the required national goal of 55 miles per gallon on average for all US-manufactured cars and light trucks to be built in the model year 2025. This is projected to save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs, or $8,000 per family, annually. In oil terms, this is a cut of 2.2 million barrels of oil per day, which is roughly half of what is imported to the US from OPEC.4
Innovation is the key to developing new sources of energy whether they are breakthroughs in safely extracting natural gas from deep underground, or hybrid/all-electric vehicles, or more efficient home heating and cooling systems. The struggle we have is determining what role, if any, government should play in the development of these new technologies. Innovation is the American lifeblood, and we should not cede leadership in alternative energies to other nations.