The question posed above was the premise of an interesting interview between ABC anchor Diane Sawyer and NYTimes columnist and best-selling author Tom Friedman Monday. In his newest book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How It Can Renew America," Friedman prophesies that the next world-changing innovation — comparable to the IT and the Internet revolution of the 1990s — will be energy technology. Whichever country comes up with breakthrough innovation will dominate the energy revolution and boost the competitiveness of its economy. "Our chance to compete against the Chinese and Indians," he said in the interview, "is going to be through green resources, through green innovation."
Few would argue with the underlying premise. After all, the spillover effects from the IT revolution in this country helped drive the U.S. economy to new heights of prosperity over the past decade. Where Friedman's book gets controversial is in his critiques of the Democratic and Republican energy plans as announced by their respective presidential candidates. John McCain's convention speech called for more oil drilling in this country. Friedman says that, assuming we even find oil reserves it will only fill about 1% of global demand. And it means we're focusing on a "19th century industry" as opposed to a "21st century industry" — renewable energy. Not only does that mean we'll continue to "chase the price of oil," he says, but other growing economies will soon surpass us in the hunt for new technologies. Meanwhile, Barack Obama's convention speech called for $150 billion worth of federal investments in new energy technologies. Friedman says that "throwing money at the problem" will not resolve it. The answer, he maintains, is to let the pricing mechanism provide incentives to innovate. In other words, allow market prices for oil to remain high, which in turn will stimulate "100,000 innovators" to develop "100,000 new products."
Both Republicans and Democrats will likely take issue with parts of Friedman's analysis. Still, few would argue with his end goal: To unleash the tremendous innovative power in this country and develop new energy sources that can fuel our economy well into the 21st century. NEMA's members — from lighting systems to motors to transformers — are on the forefront of this challenge, marketing new technologies that are already changing the ways Americans use energy.