Our history is filled with such stories. The stories of daring talent, of dedication to an idea even if the odds were great, of the unshakeable belief that in America, all things are possible.
This has been especially true in energy production. From the first commercially-viable steamboat developed by Robert Fulton to the first modern solar cell developed at Bell Labs; from the experiments of Benjamin Franklin to harness the energy of lightning to the experiments of Enrico Fermi to harness the power contained in the atom, America has led the world in producing and harnessing new forms of energy.
But just as we have led the global economy by developing new sources of energy, we have also led in global consumption of that energy. While we make up less than five percent of the world’s population, we produce roughly a quarter of the world’s demand for oil.
This appetite comes at a tremendous cost to our economy. It’s the cost as measured by our trade deficit; 20 percent of what we spend on imports is the price of our oil imports, as we send billions of dollars overseas to oil-exporting nations. It’s the cost of our vulnerability to the volatility of oil markets. It’s the cost we feel in shifting weather patterns that are already causing record-breaking droughts, unprecedented wildfires, and more intense storms.
And it is a cost we have known ever since the gas shortages of the 1970s. Yet, for more than thirty years, all too little has been done. There’s a lot of talk of action when oil prices are high, but then it slips from the radar when oil prices fall. We shift from shock to indifference time and again, year after year.
We cannot afford to do that anymore – not when the cost for our economy, for our country, and for our planet is so high. On this Earth Day, it is time for us to lay a new foundation for economic growth by beginning a new era of energy exploration in America.
The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy – it’s a choice between prosperity and decline. We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors – or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.
America can be that nation. America must be that nation. And while we seek new forms of fuel to power our homes and cars and businesses, we will rely on the same ingenuity – the same American spirit – that has always been a part of our American story.