Senator John F. Kerry, who has added global warming atop the Foreign Relations Committee's to-do list, told industry officials and others today that a clean energy revolution is coming -- and they need to get on board.
"We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in our national and governmental priorities that could one day be remembered—alongside the presidencies of Roosevelt, Johnson, and Reagan—as truly transformational," Kerry said at a forum sponsored by Hitachi and featuring panels organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Brookings Institution.
Kerry noted that the economic stimulus package includes $80 billion for alternative energy. He also pointed out that President Obama, in his address to a joint session of Congress last week and in his proposed budget, called for capping carbon emissions and creating a market for the sale of pollution credits.
"Cap-and-trade is no longer an academic question," Kerry said, according to prepared remarks. "The President and leadership in both houses of Congress are on board to make it a reality, and you need to start preparing to take advantage of it."
"If passed, this will constitute the most significant realignment of our energy system in US history," the Massachusetts lawmaker added. "For the first time ever, America will put a price on carbon that will light a fire under our green entrepreneurs, drive development of new clean technologies, re-energize our economy, and tackle global climate change—all at the same time. This should not be frightening. Far from it: the change and the challenge may both be tremendous, but so are the possibilities. I truly believe that the next four or five Googles are in the energy sector, staring us in the face."
His full prepared remarks are below:
I’d like to focus my remarks around three central truths about this moment:
First, the scale and scope of the challenge we face from climate change—measured in emissions trajectories, temperature increases, and likely impacts—are growing by the day.
Second, our leaders today are more willing and more able than ever before to address the reality of what the science is telling us. This is true globally, but it is especially true here in America.
Third, the reality of a growing challenge and a growing willingness to address it will make the coming months an opportune moment for the private sector to revolutionize our energy economy.
I will start today with the science— which ought to be the jumping-off point and guide for all policymakers and innovators addressing this challenge. Frankly, the science is screaming at us.
Right now, the most critical trends and facts point in the wrong direction. CO2 emissions grew at a rate four times faster during the Bush Administration than they did in the 1990s. Two years ago the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a series of projections for global emissions, based on likely energy and land use patterns. Well, today our emissions have actually moved beyond the worst case scenarios predicted by all of the models of the IPCC! Meanwhile, our oceans and forests, which act as natural repositories of CO2, are losing their ability to absorb carbon dioxide. This is a stronger climate forcing signal than expected, arriving sooner than expected.
And while the nations of the world are making real policy progress on this issue, all of us are still falling far short of what the science tells us must be done. A partnership led by the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and The Heinz Center recently aggregated the impact of all of these domestic policy proposals – including President Obama’s aggressive goal of 80% reductions by 2050. They validated their projections by tracking them against all the models used by the IPCC. And what they found was sobering: If every nation were to make good on its existing promises, we would still see atmospheric carbon dioxide levels well above 600 parts per million—50% above where we are now. This translates into global temperatures at least 4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. No one disputes that this would be catastrophic.
Folks, I paint a picture of urgency because that’s what the science is telling us. And as I say to my colleagues continually, this isn’t a Democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative issue. This is driven by science.
We know that this challenge has been growing for decades. Many of us have been working on this issue for longer than we care to remember. I’ve been at this for 20 years, since Al Gore and I held the very first Congressional hearings on climate change with Jim Hansen in the Commerce Committee. I was there back in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit when we first agreed to stabilize emissions and avoid “dangerous” emissions levels. Since then, I have traveled to Buenos Aires, to Kyoto, to Bali, and to Poznan most recently. So I can tell you that for years, we’ve known the missing ingredient needed to fix this problem: leadership, leadership, leadership, leadership.
Well, folks, we finally have some. In fact I’d say today America’s leadership—in the White House and in Congress—is more willing and more able than ever before to take action.
Just look at the last month: On February 17th, the President signed a bill that invests $80 billion in solar and wind generation, plug-in hybrid and electric cars, clean coal, and smart grid—as well as billions of dollars for basic science to support energy innovation. Let’s be clear about what this means: we are talking about America’s largest single investment in clean energy ever.
Impressive as that is, we’re just getting started: We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in our national and governmental priorities that could one day be remembered—alongside the presidencies of Roosevelt, Johnson, and Reagan—as truly transformational.
Last week, President Obama used his Joint Address to specifically ask Congress for climate change legislation. Cap-and-trade is no longer an academic question. The President and leadership in both houses of Congress are on board to make it a reality, and you need to start preparing to take advantage of it.
In fact, the President is counting on cap and trade. His 2010 budget includes $646 billion in revenue to be generated by a cap-and-trade auction. It then redirects much of that money into a tax cut for 95% of Americans while investing $15 billion annually in clean energy technologies.
If passed, this will constitute the most significant realignment of our energy system in US history. For the first time ever, America will put a price on carbon that will light a fire under our green entrepreneurs, drive development of new clean technologies, re-energize our economy, and tackle global climate change—all at the same time. This should not be frightening. Far from it: the change and the challenge may both be tremendous, but so are the possibilities. I truly believe that the next four or five Googles are in the energy sector, staring us in the face.
Experts tell us that, to ward off catastrophic climate change, the green revolution has to happen three times faster than the industrial revolution did. The International Energy Agency says the world must invest $45 trillion between now and 2025 to create clean, energy-efficient systems. This is a crisis, and here is our opportunity.
We should be inspired by our history as a nation of entrepreneurs. 150 years ago, in New Bedford and Nantucket, no one could conceive of a future that didn’t depend on whale oil. But our history has always been one of reinventing marketplaces and doing what seemed impossible.
Back in the 1930s, just 10% of rural America had electricity. Utilities refused to wire rural counties because homes were too far apart. So Congress invested more than $5 billion to finance rural electrification. By the 1950s, there wasn’t a corner of America that remained in the dark.
Today, we must make another leap forward by dramatically upgrading America’s power grid. We need a grid that uses information technology to efficiently deliver wind, solar, geothermal and other types of renewable electricity across the country. In a few years, you should be able to plug your American-made plug-in hybrid into the outlet in your garage, so that you never use a drop of gas on your daily commute. This won’t happen overnight, but I promise you, it is closer than you think. And it will happen that much faster if we drive innovation and invest today in a way we haven’t seen since FDR first brought electricity to millions of homes in rural America.
We need to provide real incentives to reduce our energy use, and the quickest and cheapest way to do that is through improved efficiency. Today, most utilities make money based on how much power they sell. States everywhere need to follow Massachusetts and change incentives to reward utilities not for wasting energy, but for helping customers to save it. Improved efficiency alone can lower energy consumption by 30% and save us billions.
Washington needs to catch up to the 25 states—including Massachusetts—that have already committed to generate a sizable fraction of their electricity from renewable energy. And we need long-term tax credits for clean energy and next generation biofuels to align our tax code with our goals and priorities. Speaking of which, I’ll tell you one thing that makes clean energy such a great industry for this economic moment: it has the potential to provide jobs at every level of the economy, from the research scientists who discover new ways to harness the sun’s energy to the construction workers who install solar panels.
You’ve just heard from a panel of experts on strategies to jump-start the clean energy revolution in this country. Let me give you one more example of the technologies that excite so many of us these days. I heard about this from the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, who is thinking creatively not just about how to find creative energy solutions but also about how to ensure that they are transferred to and adopted by two-and-a-half billion people in China and India. There are now four companies working on technology to process flue gas directly from coal burning plants, capture 90% of the carbon dioxide, and turn it into a calcium carbonate that has the same properties as building material. One of them presented earlier this month at the World Concrete Congress in Las Vegas. Look, if we can effectively capture carbon, it’s a game changer – particularly for a country like China, which is building a new coal plant each week.
I’m also excited about the possibilities for solar thermal energy. Scientists tell me we have enough potential in just seven southwestern states to produce six times the electricity needs of the entire United States. If we upgrade our grid and modernize our transmission infrastructure, people can then plug in their electric cars at night to charge on 100% renewable energy. That would be an entirely carbon-free automobile. That’s the vision—and we’re closer than ever.
I realize that doubters will argue that we cannot afford to address this issue in the midst of an economic crisis. They have it fundamentally wrong. This is a moment of enormous opportunity for new technology, new jobs, and the greening of our economy. We can’t afford not to act.
There will be a cost. That’s inescapable. The only question is whether we pay it now in a way that also helps us break our addiction to oil, strengthens our global system and global standing, and catapults us into the 21st-century economy with millions of new jobs and a jolt of economic stimulus—or we can pay for it later on a massive, unpredictable scale in the currency of environmental devastation, human misery, military commitments, and reduced economic growth for decades to come. And while I am very aware of the unique perils of this economic moment, I believe the choice we cannot afford is the second one.
That is the situation we find ourselves in—both dire and immensely promising. The problem is worse than ever before, our leaders are readier than ever before to tackle it, and entrepreneurs must be ready to step up. Instead of arguing about the market versus the marketplace, we need to use both to find a solution.
I’d like to close with a story I often tell to those who raise fears about the costs of action or doubts as to whether America can rise to meet this challenge: Back when I was Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts in the mid-1980s, I chaired the Governor's Task Force on acid rain with John Sununu and Dick Celeste, and we put together the first emissions trading mechanism in the country. So when I came to the Senate, I helped to do the same on the federal level through the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. And I'll never forget the industry coming in and saying, "Senator, don't do this to us, you're going to put us out of business. It's going to cost $8 billion and we won’t be able to compete in the world." The environmental community came in and told me the industry price tag was too high, that it would cost $4 only billion and take about four years. To the credit of George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Reilly and John Sununu, we did it. Guess what? It cost about $2 billion and took about two years.
Why? Because no one has the ability to predict what will happen when a great nation like ours puts its creative genius and entrepreneurial skills on the line—and backs up the bet with money to meet the challenge and set our innovators loose.
This is a new era in American politics, a new era in our energy policy, and a new era for our energy markets. We are now reaching a moment of opportunity and a moment of truth. It’s up to us to seize it and make it meaningful. Thank you.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.