From: James Quigley, Center for Sustainable Energy
Published September 7, 2005 12:00 AM

It’s Time for a New Vision -- A Guest Commentary

The calamity in the Gulf Coast will have staggering implications in the US economy for months and possibly years to come. Hundred of thousands are homeless and more than a million people have lost their jobs. Gasoline at the pump is now well past $3 per gallon across the country and those prices are not likely to subside appreciably in the foreseeable future if at all. Some climate experts are warning that Hurricane Katrina is a prelude to more aberrant climate disruptions ahead. Anarchy has overtaken the streets of New Orleans and all our President can offer are inadequate platitudes about how “this will make America stronger.” Where is the vision? Why is there such a vacuum of leadership?


Naturally, we all mourn for our fellow Americans whose lives have been shattered by this disaster. The survivors need our help and we should give it. But we need more than promises to rebuild the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. There is an imperative in the threat of global climate change. Our survival is at stake. The evidence abounds yet the naysayers decry it and remain ostrich-like in their perpetual state of denial. The oceans have warmed, sea level rises, glaciers are retreating, polar ice is melting, growing seasons start earlier and end later, drought ravages one area while floods ravage another. Concentrations of CO2 we have pumped into our atmosphere have never been higher as our demand for more fossil fuel has never been greater. There is a better way.


Existing, off-the-shelf, commercially-viable technologies could be employed to reverse the increasingly ominous cycle referred to above, yet it lingers at the periphery of our consciousness like a forgotten child. I refer here to solar and wind energy applications. The average high school math student, using conservative estimates, could calculate that photovoltaic (sunlight-to-electricity), or “solar panels,” placed on 10% of the land mass of Arizona could supply the entire electrical demand of the country. The state of Minnesota, by itself, has sufficient wind energy resources to also supply the entire US electricity demand.


What is needed is a new resolve, a rebirth of the old American spirit of ingenuity. There should be a massive undertaking on the scale of what we did to build the atomic bomb, put a man on the moon, or build our monumental interstate highway system. We should be erecting manufacturing facilities in every city that will put people back to work producing solar and wind energy applications that should be placed on rooftops and mountaintops across the land. Those people who purchase and install these technologies should get tax rebates for doing it. We could free ourselves from our dependency on imported oil and fight foreign wars no more over it. With the surplus electricity we generate we could electrolyze hydrogen to propel our vehicles down the nation’s highways expelling nothing more than water vapor. We have it in our power to change the tide of history.


We could do all this if we could only find the will. Will we find it? And can we find it before it’s too late?


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James Quigley, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, City University of New York.


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