And the there were the big snowstorms and freezing temperatures in the American Midwest that made us Minnesotans wish that warmer temperatures were the only consequence of global warming. ('Cause seriously, when the weather is -8°F/-13°C, going outside is pretty darn awful!)
So since climate change is what we're all talking about, I feel that it's time I chime in with what I believe with all my heart:
I have absolutely no interest in getting into the argument about whether climate change is occurring or not. Why? Because it goes nowhere. In America, people stick to their beliefs like they're two opposing armies on a battlefield who have build their fortifications and won't stop until the other side is completely vanquished. All arguing does is cause the other side to reinforce their beliefs.
I do have a very strong opinion on this issue though. I think climate change legislation is a great idea. But probably not for the reasons you expect.
First of all, I think that it is awful that companies are blithely spewing noxious chemicals into the air and into the earth. And they are - you won't find anyone who doesn't believe that.
More importantly though. I think climate change legislation is an absolute must if we Americans want to continue being known for our innovative spirit!
Whether or not you agree that climate change is occurring, it's a fact that a large majority of the world does - and is enacting legislation to combat it. This is something we cannot ignore as innovators!If we ignore climate change in the US, we risk becoming obsolete as exporters as the rest of the world restricts technology that emits large amounts of CO2. And we risk becoming obsolete within our own country as well, as foreign companies make breakthroughs.
The fact is, companies don't make drastic innovation breakthroughs without a good reason. If they can continue spewing chemical into the air without punishment, they will. Why do you think that our cars get barely more miles per gallon (MPG) now than they did in the 1970s?
Detroit has stubbornly refused (not "failed".. "refused") to innovate significantly in the past 20-30 years.
From Detroit's side, SUV's and trucks are a cash cow. They cost nominally more to make than cars, and bring in oodles of money. So, as long as Detroit could convince Americans that they need that giant truck, their business model was golden and they had no incentive to look ahead. And then they over-committed themselves to inflexible factories and when the market shifted, they went down in flames. (As they should have.)
As for the argument about letting the markets choose, that's a horribly bad idea if we want America to be an innovative leader in the future.
There's an interesting correspondence between cost of new green technology and energy prices. When gas is expensive, that pricey Prius looks pretty good (and thus the price drops for future high mph vehicles as supply rises and the supply chain is optimized for higher volume). And in that case, the free market is a beautiful thing.
But when gas is artificially cheap, people are very susceptible to the intense marketing campaigns that Detroit runs to convince Americans that a big truck is one of their fundamental rights. I'd like to think the masses were more forward-thinking and less susceptible to emotional manipulation than that, but they usually aren't.
(For proof, I offer up the slimy DeBeers diamond engagement ring campaign that began in 1938 and convinced Americans that only a diamond can prove someone loves you. Masterful marketing campaign... but very manipulative. And trust me, if a guy ever tries to tell his future fiance about how she's been manipulated to want a diamond... he'll be in the doghouse for months. The marketing was THAT good.)
So whenever companies can convince consumers that they should remain stuck in the past and resist innovation - they usually do. Many will throw everything they have into resisting the need to innovate. (Yes music industry, I'm talking about you.)
For many companies, their most important goal is to make their quarterly books look as good as possible for the shareholders. As a result, they have no incentive to look ahead and prepare for the future. Their incentive is to sell what's profitable now. Chances are, the CEO who is raking in oodles of money won't even be around when the market turns. So, too many companies operate in the here and now.But when companies finally know they need to change (or risk huge fines or market losses), they do so incredibly well. American companies especially. We have such innovative capacity here in the US that we could lead the world in environmental innovation.
Instead though, we bicker constantly about whether climate change is actually occurring. We stall, and waffle, and do everything we can to avoid making a short-term painful decision that will pay off for us in the long run.
Right now, in the climate change debate, we're just being dragged along by the rest of the world like a reluctant child who doesn't want to do its homework.
That's not the America I believe in. I see America as a country that seizes opportunities to be a world leader. This climate bickering is not conducive to that - and it's not an issue that is going to go away. So we need to get off our butts and start moving forward now.
Innovators don't sit back and resist change. They seize it and use all their brilliance to find out how to take advantage of every situation. We need to do that.
It's time for us to stop being the obstructionists who are missing opportunities to really benefit from this situation. It's time for America to sign the climate change agreement in Copenhagen, stop bitching about it at home, and get our butts into our garages and labs to make some magic.
And I can't wait for the American government to step up, take a stance and pass legislation that actually makes us do it.