America is being left behind by energy innovators
By Arnold Schwarzenegger
Health, jobs and security depend on clean energy, says Arnold Schwarzenegger
In June, within the span of two days, I found myself in the seat of the European government and in the capital of an African nation that wants to lead its continent into the future.
On the surface, Brussels, home of the European parliament, and Algiers, the capital of quickly growing Algeria, might not have much in common.
Brussels is filled with cobblestone streets, priceless art and history. Algiers has the look of a city that is finding itself. It is filled with cranes, new projects and almost finished buildings. In Brussels, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, is dealing with the concerns of EU members over energy security. In Algiers, tankers cannot pull into the port fast enough to export the north African country’s oil. Despite all of this, Brussels and Algiers share a vision of a sustainable energy future.
I visited them both to discuss how we can think differently and move forward at the sub-national level – in cities, states and provinces – as we wait for an international agreement from the UN.
I was there on behalf of R20, my international organisation – the “R” stands for regions and 20 is the original number of members (today we have more than 500).
I gave speeches explaining that environmentalists must communicate better. Instead of talking about polar bears or ice caps, which might not register with most people, talk about the health benefits, the jobs and the security that come from clean energy. But they were way ahead of me.
Both of these wildly different places are moving forward – not because of climate change but because of necessity.
In Brussels, Mr Barroso told me some of his members in western Europe want to become the hubs of innovation that attract jobs as we move towards a clean economy.
Other members in eastern Europe constantly fret over their oil security. They want a new pipeline so that they are not reliant on Russia.
In the US, we know all too well the danger of relying too much on outside sources for our energy.
In Algiers, Abdelmalek Sellal, the Algerian prime minister, told me he wants to lead the rest of the African continent to a sustainable energy future. He envisioned an opportunity to leapfrog many of the mistakes we in the west have made. He also had deep concerns over the pollution of his country’s ports and air, and the health impact on his people.
Every year, millions of people around the world die because of pollution-related illness. We can do better than that.
Climate change was barely mentioned in both cities. I wish it was the same in the US, where any conversation about energy policy starts and ends with climate change. It is a political buzzword that either excites or enrages. It is time to move forward for other reasons, for the reasons Europe and an oil-exporting African nation are moving forward.
I would like to ask Congress to give a forward-thinking energy policy a chance. It is time for Republicans and Democrats to work together and create a common vision for our future.
The US is the greatest country in the world because we always have had vision – we have always known where we were going. This is no different. If they were to visit Algiers or Brussels – cities with leaders at opposite ends of the oil market but with a common vision – they would see this is not about hugging trees. It is about jobs, health and national security.
Congress should remember that its job is not to block policy to gain politically. Its task is to to keep America great. We can clutch the status quo with all of our might, hoping the oil will never run out or we will not pollute ourselves to death. But what will that do to make us competitive as the rest of the world moves forward with an energy policy for the future? This is an issue of global competitiveness.
I could not help but be jealous of Algiers and Brussels. They have a vision, and they are not waiting. If you think that waiting is our best policy, I would ask you to look at Toyota. Sixteen years ago, the carmaker thought ahead and beat everyone else to market with the first hybrids. Even as the other companies came round, they could never catch up. Every brand now offers hybrid options but Toyota still owns 83 per cent of the hybrid market.
Do you think its competitors are congratulating themselves for waiting to see if there was a market? No. They’re asking how Toyota managed to beat them to the future.
We want to be in that position of leadership. We must create an energy policy for the future. We cannot fall behind. I have faith that this nation will always find a way to lead, and I think we will find a way on our energy policy. The US has always been the Toyota of the world, two steps ahead of everyone else. But if we wait – I have seen the next Toyota in two completely different cities, two completely different countries, two completely different continents. And, as I travel the world, I find more and more.
Congress: do not let us look to Algiers and Brussels in 20 years and say:
“How did they beat us to the future?”
Let the US lead the way, as it always has.
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The writer is a former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger
America is being left behind by energy innovators - FT.com