Conversations at the Bioneers conference last weekend (and by e-mail for many days now) have been dominated by a single theme: There is immediate need for a coherent policy with which the new US administration can deal with both the financial crash and the energy transition. Instead of propping up failing financial institutions, the new president must inject investment into the real economy by supporting wide-ranging but tightly coordinated projects to create far more renewable energy generation capacity, build railroads and public transport facilities, insulate millions of homes while providing alternative heat sources, and re-configure the national food system to dramatically reduce and soon eliminate the need for fossil fuels.
Clearly the next administration will have to do something dramatic to stop the hemorrhaging of the economy. Why a Green New Deal and not some other kind of stimulus package? Is this just the demand of a single constituency, one that will have to be weighed against and balanced with the needs of business, national defense, the struggling middle class, and of course, the bankers?
The answer to that question must be clear and unequivocal: This recession or depression is appearing at the exact historical moment when action to end our dependence on fossil fuels is required in order to avert the chaotic collapse of the entire human enterprise. Peak Oil and Climate Change present threats and imperatives of a scale unprecedented in human history. By taking up these imperatives through a de-carbonized retrofit of the nation’s (and ultimately the world’s) transport, food, and manufacturing systems, policy makers can address a number of crises simultaneously—environmental decline, resource depletion, geopolitical competition for control of energy, unemployment, balance of trade deficits, malnutrition and food-related health problems, and more.
If we (meaning, ultimately, the human species) cannot agree upon and undertake this course of action, then we will have lost what is almost certainly our last chance for collective survival. More policies will be required, such as ones to stabilize and reduce population and to rework the economic system so that it operates on a steady-state rather than a continuous growth paradigm. But the rescue process must begin with a plan to get society off of fossil fuels.
The plan must be comprehensive and compelling so that it can be sold first to the administration, and then to the American people. Soon, public education on a massive scale will be required to help ordinary citizens understand what is at stake and how sacrifices undertaken now can help build a better world later.
The plan must not be merely a wish-list of unrelated good ideas, but a prioritized, staged program with hard but realistic targets and adequate funding.
Now is the time to be formulating the elements of the plan, so that it can be formally presented immediately following the election. Now is also the time to be gathering input from energy, food, and climate leaders.
The moment may for action may be soon and brief. This morning Ben Bernanke called for a new economic stimulus package, and there are indications that such a package may be cobbled together prior to the change of administrations, hopefully with the President-Elect team’s input.