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Kathleen Rogers: Ending our oil addiction

Column by Kathleen Rogers
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When President Obama spoke to the nation about the Gulf Coast oil spill, he gave us needed straight talk for holding BP accountable and helping those affected by the spill. But, when it came down to talking about clean energy, he disappointed. This was his moment to say America needs a new investment in renewable energy and that it’s time to end America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

While Americans are all feeling the impacts of the spill, we have collectively failed to make the connection between our everyday oil use and the recklessness and negligence that led to the destruction we are witnessing now. Our consumption habits and antiquated infrastructure are exponentially increasing demand, creating an environment in which taking shortcuts on safety standards can prove to be profitable for oil and gas companies.

We need a structural shift to make our economy oil independent. This starts at the grassroots level by mobilizing our family, friends and neighbors to support federal, state and local solutions to our oil dependence. We need a clean energy and climate proposal that is comprehensive and ambitious enough to incentivize real energy independence. Even if Congress continues to delay, there are opportunities for change available at the local level. We need to promote state-based clean energy initiatives and engage local leaders to commit to clean energy policies to curb urban sprawl and promote oil-free transportation.

We need to lay the groundwork for a green economy, and focus on the opportunities clean energy provides our society. There is understandable concern for jobs and financial resources as the economy slowly recovers. Shifting to a green economy will create jobs in industries like agriculture, research and development, and manufacturing.

Failure to shift the U.S. towards a new green economy will continue to give countries like Germany and China control over the multi-trillion dollar alternative energy market. The 2009 CERNA Research Program on Technology Transfer and Climate Change confirmed that countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, like Germany and Spain, were ranking higher in clean energy innovations than countries like the U.S. that didn’t ratify the Protocol (China was not obligated to, but did embrace the treaty). These countries have invested in the markets, financing and infrastructure that have provided jobs and have proven to be very profitable. American money shifted from the oil industry and applied to clean energy will increase job opportunity in these burgeoning markets and increase our competitiveness in the global economy. By maintaining the status quo for our energy needs we are sacrificing a very lucrative opportunity and chance to give new life to our manufacturing sector.

A report from the Department of Commerce recently showed that there are more than 2 million clean energy jobs currently in place, far more than the estimated 1.3 million jobs currently provided by the oil industry. If the government passes a comprehensive and ambitious clean energy proposal and expands programs such as the Clean Energy Treasury Grant Program, the infrastructure and support will be in place to create more green jobs. Recently, a group of legislators including Senators Cantwell, Stabenow and Nelson agreed that extending the Clean Energy Treasury Grant Program would help to create 65,000 jobs in the solar energy sector alone. Clean and alternative energy provides America with the resources and jobs necessary to move away from our current oil-dependent culture. More than 3 million fishing and tourism jobs, from Texas to New Jersey, are in jeopardy because of the BP oil disaster.

The devastation is a reminder that we must find other energy resources and that our current oil addiction drives us to risky methods of extraction. The President was right when he said that “we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy — because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.” We need to make a statement to the oil companies and the government that American society can no longer afford to depend heavily on oil.

kathleen Rogers is the president of Earth Day Network.



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