The headline in last week's LA Times Business Section simply said: "China Takes Clean Energy Lead--U.S. falls to No. 2 in funding for such alternative sources as wind and solar."
Just another mid-week, easy to miss headline--unless you believe, as I do, that energy policy is one of the deciding clues for the future: who wins, who loses, who prospers, who falters. Energy is one of a few economic, political, and security cross-cuts: it touches every aspect of our lives, from producing goods, to transporting them, from economic and security independence to things as simple as the quality of every day life. So every update on renewable energy investments is a signal event.
What this article said was that a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that last year the United States invested $18.6 billion in "clean energy"; China invested $34.6 billion. Five years ago, the report said, China invested only $2.5 billion on clean energy.
Why is the U.S. faltering? Last year's economic meltdown certainly played a role in reduced U.S. efforts. But the Pew report pinpointed a more systemic problem: the United States has no national mandate that promotes investment in renewable energy nor is there a surcharge or tax on greenhouse emissions that would drive up the cost of our current unsustainable energy policy.
So without a carrot to promote new investment or a stick to punish old programs, we languish. We're stuck in an increasingly unsustainable past, without the will or drive or incentives to push ahead into the increasingly high-stakes future.
What are the stakes?
The same Pew report warns that the U.S. is "comparatively weak" when it comes to participating in the fast-approaching clean energy future. At risk: economic growth, jobs, technological leadership. Not to mention more control over our own future, our own security, our standing in the world.
Here's my take: Innovation is applied logic.
The logic here says we need to lead the world in developing and commercializing alternative, renewable, sustainable, clean energy.
To make that happen will require the cooperation of business, government, science, higher education, venture capital.
And that will require new thinking, new practices, new partnerships.
Maybe as we build a sustainable energy future, we'll build the organizational infrastructure to create a sustainable future.
That's what the applied logic says should happen.
Now we need to be organizational innovators to make it happen.
All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb