There's always been a counter-current force in the environmental movement, but suddenly green is the current. Green is unifying, green is urgent, and -- on this Fourth of July -- green is very patriotic. Why?
We need a new generation of clean energy that will: enable us, in national security terms, to be liberated from dependence on dangerous dictatorships; enable us, in economic terms, to be effective in worldwide competition; and enable us, in environmental terms, to provide for a much cleaner and healthier future.
The words of Al Gore? Nope. Newt Gingrich. The former Republican speaker of the House, known for combative partisanship among other things, is urging a new green conservatism. He is, by no means, alone.
Listen closely to just about any of the presidential candidates -- Republican or Democratic, declared and undeclared -- and you will hear some echo of this concept. Look at the plans put forward by any number of mayors and governors -- from Independent Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sustainability plan for New York City to Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's California carbon dioxide diet -- and you hear some of its most forceful proponents.
The deep thinkers -- standing left, right and center on the political spectrum -- may differ on methods, but they sound remarkably alike on the centrality of the environment as a critical issue of this generation. Green is the term coming to define a new issue -- one for which not only traditional clean air and clean water concerns matter, but one where national security and economic prosperity intersect at a global scale. That means, simply, that it is a job for the world's only superpower.
Geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. That's how Thomas Friedman, author of the massively influential The World Is Flat defined green in his New York Times Magazine essay on the subject. That's because green, more than anything, means smart, profitable energy -- and energy is global.
Highly polluting fossil fuel energy from hostile parts of the world has to go. The hatred engendered by our involvement in the Middle East helped inspire the jihadists that attacked on 9/11. Its carbon-heavy pollution are causing catastrophic changes to the climate.
In the place of oil? Innovative technology for a new low-carbon economy. Through the green lens, this is as American a product as apple pie, as lucrative an export as oil, and as salient an idea as freedom.
Innovation is the hallmark of the American entrepreneurial spirit, and that's where politicians are wagering their political capital. Green, in other words, is positive and forward-looking.
Bill Richardson, New Mexico's Democratic governor, has called in his presidential campaign for an Apollo Project-scale energy project to galvanize the country's best minds on this issue. Several Republican candidates have echoed that phrase. No candidate has failed to recognize the important intersection of energy and national security, and energy has engendered the most detailed policy proposals of any domestic issue.
Where the presidential candidates differ most markedly -- at this early stage in the campaign -- is how they define the phrase energy independence. Energy independence -- the weaning of the nation off of foreign oil -- is a central part of the patriotic green fervor no matter how you parse it.
The degree to which energy independence is synonymous with clean and renewable energy -- as opposed to cheap, domestic but highly polluting coal -- is shaping up as a defining difference among candidates, at least in their rhetoric.
Come back to Friedman's geostrategic label. Dozens of military bigwigs -- retired generals, CIA agents and think tank thinkers -- have warned that unfettered global warming will only destabilize volatile parts of the world, jeopardizing our national security. And that makes climate change neither the mother of all issues nor their ugly stepchild, but a sibling to economic prosperity and national security.
In a word: Green.
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