he debate over global warming has changed. Not so long ago, the point of contention was the science. Some feared that adding billions of tons of pollution to the atmosphere was to flirt with environmental disaster, while others advised that it was no problem at all, and maybe even good for the earth. In the face of mounting scientific evidence, however, that latter group has dwindled to a tiny (if still vocal) fringe.
Now that we have largely accepted that the problem of global warming exists, our governments argue about what, if anything, can be done about it. Here we have a classic fight among the dour pessimists and the exuberant optimists.
The pessimists contend that building an energy economy that can tame global warming is impossible for all sorts of reasons: cost, technology, big government, and jobs. For them, a world without polluting fossil fuels would be a cold and dark place. No doubt they are right that global warming is difficult to solve, but they are surely wrong to adopt a do-nothing approach.
The optimists, on the other hand, believe the problem is indeed solvable. If you want to hear from the optimists, pick up a copy of Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy, written by Jay Inslee, a committed congressman from Washington State, and Bracken Hendricks, an experienced advocate for energy reform. With enough sunshine to fire a field of solar panels, these two show us why we should not listen to the naysayers.
My passion in life comes from setting huge, apparently unachievable challenges and then doing whatever it takes to surmount them. When my company, Virgin, was told that it could not create a profitable transatlantic airline from scratch, I was motivated to get our service up and running in just six monthsand we haven’t looked back since.
This is how the authors of Apollo’s Fire see the issue of global warmingthat it is challenging us to create a better future. And they named their book after the ultimate Mission Impossible: President Kennedy’s challenge, in 1961, to put a man on the moon in just nine years, and before the Russians.
The book is smart, but it is no dull policy treatise. It is for the business leader, the investor, and the citizen. It is the eye-opening story of how we can revolutionize the ways we produce and consume energy to transform the global economy with new technologies and millions of “green collar” jobsall while beating global warming. Along the way, Inslee gives us an entertaining look inside his work in Congress, including meeting with President Bushwhom he calls the “Decider”to talk climate change.
Painting the big picture, Inslee and Hendricks argue that we can build a world of diverse energy sources, where the entrepreneur creates the technology to wring affordable and reliable energy from sunlight, electric vehicles, wind, or ocean waves. Farmers can benefit from new energy markets for their crops. Workers in Boston, Detroit, Houston, or Seattle can build wind turbines or solar power systems.
The authors also drill down with stories of scientists and businessmen building the nation’s first wave buoy electrical generating system and others building a plug-in electric car that gets 150 miles a gallon. They offer the reader a chance to stand at the very edge of innovation.
Global warming is a challenge we all share, and we must all make a commitment to its solution. Over the next ten years, my company will invest at least $3 billion in developing energy sources that do not contribute to global warming. We have started Virgin Fuels, to develop clean-burning biofuels. We will even power a jumbo jet on biofuel next yearsomething others in the industry predicted was a decade away.
I am often asked if I do these things to make money. Of course. The only way we will beat global warming is to invest in viable new fuels and technologies that sustain and bolster the economy and can actually replace fossil fuels.
Inslee and Hendricks understand that. They know that global warming will be solved through the risk and reward of capitalism. Yes, some people are going to get very, very rich along the way, but the authors show how poor inner cities and rural small towns can use these new investments to create a broadly shared prosperity.
My hope is that our governments will remember this as they fashion a regime to solve this problem. Money is a great motivator; let it help solve global warming.
For America and the world, this “radical” vision is a win-win situation. We can spend our money manufacturing energy technology and creating millions of jobs instead of throwing it, almost literally, down a hole in the ground. And a solution to global warming could also reduce the many security problems across the world, and perhaps even help us avoid another war in the Middle East.
In the end, the ethics of the situation should motivate us just as much as the potential for money, jobs, and security. Our generation has inherited an incredibly beautiful world from our parents, as they did from their parents. It is incumbent upon us to find a way to live in it without putting future generations at risk.
President Kennedy’s vision to send a man to the moon spawned the inspiration and innovation to achieve the so-called impossible. It is my hope that this new Apollo’s Fire might capture the public’s imagination and ignite the next revolution in clean energyjust in time to save the future.