Climate change may be one of the most important issues facing our nation, but don’t expect either of the major U.S. political parties to address it in a serious way leading up to the presidential election in November, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman said in Aspen on Thursday.
Speaking to a crowd of 280 at the Aspen District Theater as part of the ongoing Aspen Business Luncheon series, Friedman, an author and columnist for the New York Times, asserted Democratic political consultants are advising their candidates not to mention the “losing topic” while their Republican counterparts continue their push to demonize the phrase “climate change” and deny it exists.
“One party has the completely wrong convictions, and the other doesn’t have the courage of their convictions,” Friedman said, arguing that climate change should be a priority issue for the U.S. “To name something is to own it. If other people name it, you have a problem. Green is the new red, white and blue. It’s important not to cede the language.”
The event, “Leading America’s Energy Future: A National Conversation,” kicked off the ninth-annual American Renewable Energy Day (AREDAY) Summit, being held at the St. Regis through Monday. Organizers plan to bring together a diverse cross-section of leaders and influencers to identify actionable scenarios where renewable energy can be developed to address climate change.
Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute and an expert on energy issues who shared the stage with Friedman, pointed out that other countries are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to renewable energy.
He cited Portugal, which climbed from 17 percent renewable energy in 2005 to 45 percent in 2010, while the U.S. rose from 9 percent to only 10 percent during that same timeframe. He said China, India, Japan, Germany and even Cuba beat the U.S. out of the gate on renewable energy innovation, and that the U.S. military’s reliance on the civilian power grid makes the country vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
“The speed of the energy revolution is spreading like wildfire,” Lovins said, adding that the military may be key to the increased use of renewables in this country. “If the military got serious about energy renewables ... we could use that leverage to get off oil.”
That’s starting to happen. The U.S. Department of the Navy recently announced a five-point plan to move toward renewable energy, committing to get at least 50 percent of its total energy consumed from alternative sources by 2020.
But don’t expect the nation’s two major political parties to address renewable energy anytime soon, Friedman said. In spite of his belief that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson’s effective moratorium on new coal-burning power plants in this country was a major step forward, he doubts the Democrats will take a leadership position on climate change.
“Lisa Jackson has been the most effective cabinet member of this administration, yet she’s basically in the witness protection program,” Friedman said of her absence from the public eye. “I predict you will hear very little about [climate change] at the Democratic convention. I hope I’m wrong.”
He pointed to the Republican Party’s position on budget negotiations as indicative of its new radicalism, saying true conservatives would understand fixing the national budget needs to involve both tax increases and spending cuts, but the current Republicans in Congress only want to discuss cuts, Friedman said.
“[The Republicans] have gone from being a conservative party to a radical party,” Friedman said. “We don’t need debates. We need deals — deals on energy, deals on the budget. You’re not going to get that from a radical Republican party. What we’ve been having is some sort of bizarre food fight.”
And it’s not only climate change. Friedman said the country is at a stalemate on most major issues, including gun control, deficit solutions, the carbon tax and cap-and-trade, and that the impasse in Congress is weakening the country.
“All these issues are off the table,” he said. “Our whole future is off the table. How long do we remain a great country when, on every major issue, we have suboptimal solutions?”
Lovins agreed there is a vacuum of leadership to break the gridlock at the federal level on renewable energy, saying that partisan politics have killed the U.S. wind industry three times over tax credits. But he has an idea on how to get the conversation moving again.
“What is missing from the political discourse is that gas and coal get larger subsidies [than wind energy],” Lovins said. “I’d weed out the corporate socialists parading as free-marketeers.”