A Washington State congressman brought a can-do attitude on global warming on his book tour, telling an audience at Prairie Lights in Iowa City Monday that the climate crisis gives America “huge challenges and huge opportunities both in the same moment.”
“I think Americans respond to messages of optimism and confidence, and I think that is both apt, fitting and powerful in this revolution,” Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., told Iowa Independent after his reading from Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy. “Leading with a message that we are going to grow our economy and we are going to create more options for you is the right message.”
“We thought when we were writing the book we were writing a book about the economy,” said Inslee. “It turns out we were really writing a book about hope. So many people have approached this out of a spirit of fear rather than a spirit of confidence and hope”
The book’s title and introduction plays on the 1960’s moon project. When John F. Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon, Inslee says, “that was an audacious, courageous, gutsy thing to do at that time. It took a lot of chutzpah. At the time, our missiles were plowing up on the launch pad, the Russians were killing us in space, we hadn’t even invented Tang yet. But Kennedy knew something about the American character. He knew we were the most innovative creative people on the face of the planet, so he called forth that sense of optimism. We believe we need exactly that sense of can-do attitude for another Apollo project based on that same type of American ingenuity and confidence in our abilities.”
Inslee says it may be ironic, but “these tremendous challenges associated with global warming may spur the greatest economic boom the country’s had since the internet.”
“The world is going to demand clean energy, an no country is better positioned to fulfill that demand than the United States of America. Think about this: when the American economy grows, it is in periods of economic transition. We grew during the radio age, the aerospace age, we certainly grew during the internet age, and now we have this fourth huge transition into the clean energy age. And the reason we do well when there is such a large-scale transition is that that is our forte. We create, we build, we innovate. That is what Americans do – we play baseball, we bake apple pie, and we invent things. And so this is the perfect moment for us.”
“We have two scientific dynamics hitting at the same time. The negative is that we are finding the science of global warming is so disturbing and so clear to us, we’re seeing this acceleration of problems environmentally,” Inslee said. At this very same moment, very happily, we are seeing the maturation of these multiple clean technologies, from solar thermal to solar photovoltaic, from biofuels to potentially enhanced geothermal to wave power to all these new efficiency standards. It’s a very exciting time to be alive and to be an American.”
Some of these technologies will play out in Iowa. “Iowa has a tremendous potential” for cellulosic ethanol, said Inslee. He said last week ground broke for the first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant in the U.S in Georgia. “We can use the whole plant, everything above the ground rather than just the kernel.”
“20 years ago wind energy was look at as sort of this avant-garde thing that only people eating hemp and living in teepees believed in,” Inslee said, and it’s now a mainstream economic driving force, the most rapidly develop energy source in America, one employing hundreds of people in Iowa at the Clipper Wind Turbine Company. It’s a fully mature industry that’s continuing to become more efficient”
“We are going to see a stunningly rapid reinvention of the car,” Inslee predicted.. “We tell a story (in the book) about Felix Kramer who epitomizes the American spirit of invention, that started with the Wright brothers and Edison, that whole tradition.” Kramer developed a plug-in hybrid car in his garage, which will drive on an off-the-grid electric charge for 30 to 40 miles and then can switch over to a hybrid drive train. “He gets over 100 miles a gallon and he’s using electricity that costs 1/3 as much as gasoline for the first 40 miles,” said Inslee. “We’re not going to recognize the car within the decade, except the outside of it.”
Inslee says action needs to take place on all levels – individual, societal, corporate and governmental. “The government plays the role of no longer allow polluters to use the atmosphere as their personal garbage dump, ” he said. Inslee proposes a “cap and trade” system. Emissions of greenhouse gases would be capped, and permits would be sold at auction. Mileage standards also need to be increased. “If the progress of the late 1970s and early 1980s had simply continues, we would be free from Saudi Arabian oil today.”
Inslee says there are no silver bullets in solving the clean energy crisis. “None of these things will solve the whole problem. Plug-in hybrids won’t solve the whole problem, biodiesel won’t solve the whole problem, but each are a step.” Because global warming is such a big challenge, Inslee says, we have to be willing to at least consider technologies that we may not have looked at before including coal and nuclear. Coal mining will probably remain environmentally problematic, he said, but Inslee is positive about coal burning technologies that will extract the CO2 prior to burning and inject in underground. For nuclear power to move forward, he said, major issues of disposal, costs and proliferation need to be addressed.
Inslee’s full reading will air on WSUI’s “Live From Prairie Lights” program at 8 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday.