Welcome to our new Time Magazine readers. Americans for Energy Leadership was just featured by Time’s must-read Special Annual History Cover Issue on Thomas Edison and U.S. technological leadership (July 5th), called “The Electrifying Edison.” Time’s lead energy and environment reporter Bryan Walsh wrote:
“Inventors like Edison helped build America’s unparalleled scientific and technological dominance, a dominance that, more than any other single factor, made the 20th century the American century… the federal government played an important role through its own research laboratories and investments in education. Even when America’s scientific preeminence was threatened by the Soviet Union’s Sputnik launch in 1957, the U.S. only came back stronger. “The federal response to Sputnik was an overwhelming investment in science and engineering education,” says Teryn Norris, director of Americans for Energy Leadership. “That had spillover benefits across the board.” (emphasis added)
The article explains the critical importance of large-scale federal investment today in clean energy technology and education for the sake of America’s global leadership and competitiveness, adding Time’s voice to the ever-growing national “energy innovation consensus.” It cites statistics from the previous report I co-authored with Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant,” a widely acclaimed study containing the first comprehensive international review of clean energy competitiveness (see our updated “The Power to Compete” policy memo for more). The article continues:
“It’s ironic that nowhere is America’s position in science and technology more threatened than in the industry that Edison essentially invented: energy. Clean power could be to the 21st century what aeronautics and the computer were to the 20th, but the U.S. is already falling behind. China, South Korea and Japan are set to invest more than $500 billion combined in clean technology over the next five years, while the U.S. is likely to invest less than $200 billion, and that’s assuming clean-energy legislation makes it into law. Meanwhile, Congress remains largely paralyzed.“
The article, available in news stands this week, concludes by pointing to Bill Gates and Jeffrey Immelt, who recently joined forces with other business titans to launch the American Energy Innovation Council, calling for at least $16 billion per year in federal energy RD&D.
“In mid-June, a group of corporate titans, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, descended on Washington to call for U.S. spending on energy research to be tripled. They noted that the government today spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development – not counting temporary stimulus projects – compared with $30 billion annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military R&D. At a time when energy is more important than ever – and while oil from a blown well bleeds into the Gulf of Mexico – the U.S. no longer seems willing to create the environment that can engender the innovation we were once known for. “The world is not going to wait for the United States to lead,” said Immelt. “This is about innovation. This is about competition. This is about energy security.”
Some erosion of the U.S.’s scientific dominance is inevitable in a globalized world and might not even be a bad thing. Tomorrow’s innovators could arise in Shanghai or Seoul or Bangalore. And Edison would counsel against panic – as he put it once, “Whatever setbacks America has encountered, it has always emerged as a stronger and more prosperous nation.” But the U.S. will inevitably decline unless we invest in the education and research necessary to maintain the American edge. The next generation of Edisons could be waiting. But unless we move quickly, they won’t have the tools they need to thrive.”