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A Green New Deal?
The SkyTrough using ReflecTech Mirror Film is unveiled in Arvada, Colo., Monday Oct. 6, 2008.  (AP Photo/SkyFuel, Jack Dempsey)

The SkyTrough using ReflecTech Mirror Film is unveiled in Arvada, Colo., Monday Oct. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/SkyFuel)

Everybody’s talking about a Green New Deal — a giant push into green energy, green technology, green retrofitting — that would put America back to work, and save the planet, too!

Sounds like a great deal, and Barack Obama is beating the green drum every time he talks about the economy.

But with oil prices plunging and the economy in full swoon, does the green dream still add up? Environmentalists say it has to. Economists say watch your step. T. Boone Pickens has shelved his wind farm.

This hour, On Point: The green dream, the Green New Deal — and what the age of Obama can deliver.

You can join the conversation. Is this the moment to go full throttle green? Or not?
Are you ready for the green New Deal?


From New York, we’re joined by John Carey, senior correspondent for BusinessWeek magazine. He covers science, technology, and the environment, and writes for the magazine’s “Green Business” blog.

Joining us from Menlo Park, California, is Josh Green. He’s a general partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with $2 billion under management. He helps lead the firm’s “Powering the Planet” portfolio, which focuses on clean-tech companies. The firm has been making clean-tech investments since 2003, in everything from solar technology to electric cars and fuel cells.

And from Los Angeles, we’re joined by Matthew Kahn, professor of economics at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and a research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Environmental and Energy Economics Group. He’s author of “Green Cities: Urban Growth and the Environment.”

More links:

Elizabeth Rosenthal at The New York Times examines how the global economic slowdown may make investments in clean energy more difficult.

The New Republic’s Bradford Plumer argues that the economic crisis is a perfect time to institute a cap-and-trade system.

Rebecca Smith at The Wall Street Journal explores the challenges of clean energy amid the economic downturn.

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  • http://www.humanmedia.org Brian Johnson

    While you’re talking about the green economy, think about the impact we’d have on global warming if we all became vegetarians! Eat your greens and go green! I heard a great show on public radio about this recently. How about have the economists discuss the effects on what would happen if we reduced our consumption of beef, poultry and other traditional protein sources that require huge amounts of petro-fertilizer, transportation costs, and whatnot. So much of the discussion is targeted towards money, maybe there is a cost justification for vegetarianism, if you add up the health benefits.

  • Jim Goodine

    I am a builder in Bennington, Vermont and have been very committed to energy efficient building for more than 30 years. We have built some very efficient houses in the late 70′s and early 80′s from double envelope to underground to super-insulated.

    As homeowners got used to higher energy prices in the late 80′s and the 90′s, we saw the money going to the hot tubs and granite countertops.

    Now we are hearing the owners requesting the raised levels of insulation, fresh air systems, and solar panels.

    I have no doubt that energy efficiency will again take a back seat once we get used to higher energy prices. There is a very short memory on the part of the average homeowner.

    Most of the technology for creating a healthy, energy efficient home has been around for 40 years but the political and public will has been lacking.

  • Mark Stein

    What about scalability? In the electronics industry, as tech has developed and become ubiquitous in society, we’ve seen dramatic drops in price. Green power tech is still in its infancy (thanks to decades of foot-dragging), but once we get serious about developing this field, it’s not unreasonable to expect costs to come down fairly soon once scalability of the technology is addressed with aggressive R&D. The new green economy should be accessible at all income levels on short order.

  • Victor

    Slightly off topic, but an idea to help the US, UK, Japan and Australia…

    Basic idea. Convert US to metric, convert UK, Japan and Australia to driving on the right side of the road. Now for some barter’ing.

    US to offer left driver seat cars to these countries at a discount / free. Each vehicle receiver to host 1 autoworker family for 1 -> 2 weeks. Prior to visit, each family to become penpals. During visit, to engrain metric to US family, to experience how these countries live with less KW/person than the US.

    Throwing in many different varied plans into the mix may not be the perfect solution, but may produce unexpected useful results.

  • MargaretB

    As long as there is the equivalent of a Truman Commission to watchdog our investment in green business endeavors, Obamam’s initiative makes sense. To avoid cost overruns and potential corruption,some group–outside the administration–needs to play an active skeptic role.

  • Tom Huber

    To build a green infrastructure across America and the world requires lots of oil. The drop in oil prices is a huge opportunity to lower the price tage of what it will take to build. Thus the low oil price is a bright spot in the economics of what it will take to power part of the economy using clean technology.

    The cost of making this large investment will only increase. Along with transitioning to renewables, we also need a huge powering down. We will never be able to power the economy by switching to renewables.

    Let’s stockpile the oil now for national security interests in this age of peak oil and climate change to make the investment over the next 100 years.

  • http://wee-farm.org Bill C

    If you look at the need for a ‘new’ grid, then you are talking about moving lots of electricity from point a to point b. This preserves the current commercial model of pay to generate, pay to transfer, pay to consume.

    When you start looking at distributed generation and empowering people or companies to gather their own electricity from the sun or the wind, then there should be a decreased need to move all that electricity from one state to the next, and less necessity for a huge grid build out.

    As the price of solar panels is reduced, incentives given for investment in local power generation (not money per se, but tax incentives – like no property tax on the household or commercial solar improvements, no sales taxes on the hardware, parity for purchasing the excess by the power transfer utility, etc.) then it makes economic sense to distribute power generation up from your house and my house.

    With micro power generators, companies or apartment buildings can use gas to produce electricity and use the exhaust to heat the building. Toshiba and others have small nuclear power plants (tractor trailer sized – much simpler than the BWR and PWR behemoths) that can power small communities safely for a couple decades.

    A strategy to distribute generation of small amounts of electricity all across the land – down to your house and mine could go a long way to assist with energy needs instead of concentrating it in large utility companies, many of whom now merely transfer electricity from producer to consumer after selling off generating assets to other companies.

  • Matthew

    As an Act of War, the military & war budgets should be reinvested in the R&D of renewable energy technology. The project should be on a scale that is larger than the Manhattan Project ever was. To speed progress, more people have to get involved. Competition must be fostered through incentives by subsidizing & rewarding established companies as well as private start-ups to keep in-check oligopolistic, profiteering collusion by large companies. Struggling auto & aerospace companies should be given these funds with the condition that they use it solely for the development & mass production of new green technologies. Industries should be converted with the same spirit as during the WWII effort from autos to tanks. A separate generic-brand government-funded agency should be created & thrown into the competition & production to ensure that prices for the new technology are kept low. Once the means of bringing the technology into mass production & distribution of new green energy is made possible, it should be freely introduced into other countries, especially oil producing countries, which will, in turn, lower world oil prices.

    The more units, such as Priuses are manufactured, the cheaper the cost & price per unit.

  • R.M.

    Matthew @10:52 am
    I agree completely …..

  • karmen s

    I listened with interest this morning…I am from North Iowa. Almost daily the number of huge, energy producing windmills increases, and has totally changed the North Iowa horizon. We have welcomed many new young men (and a few women) to our communities, some bring their families, as they construct these huge windmills. At least two community colleges are developing programs to train students how to repair them, and to assist in their construction. Some parts are made here, the talk is that EDC people are working to encourage the local manufacture of other parts that are currently imported from Holland. The Green Revolution is flourshing here!! Power lines to carry the energy are also being erected, and are they ever huge!! It is all very exciting, though some question putting these towers on the richest agricultural land in the world! Farmers mutter, collect the rent checks, and farm around them! If you have never seen these windmills, look them up! They are really something!

  • Majawill

    I think we need to incentivize the market to do this. Raise gas taxes, cap carbon, etc. When you let government (and politics) set the direction, you get corn-based ethanol and we all know that disaster.

  • Tom Mosher

    In the late 70s, when I lived in South Central PA, Jimmy Carter introduced a tax credit for conservation type efforts (insulating you home, replacement windows, solar devices, etc.). There was a blizzard of new startup companies selling solar hot air systems, solar hot water systems, plus a large increase in people installing insulation and other conservation type contruction to homes and business. The Home Shows that are presented at auditoriums all over the country were a wash with new small business people selling all kinds of variations of solar devices. There was even a seminar of the local middle school where over 50 people in that area showed up to present their versions of the new exploding industry. The local Vo-Tech held contests for the best solar hot air systems and they were quite inventive. Then came President Reagan who cancelled the program. Conservation is the cheapest and easiest way to save energy but as with all technologies there are winners and loosers. The winners were the consumer and small business. The loosers in this case were the large utilities and big oil. And as they say, the rest is history.

    Why not bring back the tax cut program for conservation. Lots of homeowners are thinking of how to save on the energy bill. A small tax insentive at this time would probably crate millions of retrofits in housing and business and create millions of jobs producing and installing the products.


  • Fred Dwyer

    Through this difficult economic time comments are often made to the effect “What has been wrong with the American auto industry? Why haven’t they seen the future and built more economical cars?”

    I believe that much of the cause, has been the American model of corporate performance. The biggest motivation of American corporations has been THIS QUARTER’S RESULTS. Corporate success has been measured quarter by quarter. While corporations paid lip service to long range planning, a bad quarter always resulted in more of the budget being focussed on current business. A bad quarter might discourage investors, reduce executive bonuses, tarnish the corporate image. So automobile companies moved from quarter to quarter planning the future on what customers were buying at that time. How we change that culture, to focus major resources on plans for +5 and +10 years, I hjust can’t imagine.

  • AV

    Brian Johnson, you raise an excellent point. The way meat is produced in the US today in CAFOs ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Factory_farming ) requires ignoring large negative externalities, which eventually, are and will be paid for by taxpayers. So plant-based food eaters are to some extent subsidizing the meat-eaters.

    I myself am a vegetarian, but I have no beef with people eating meat and poultry (it’s a personal choice), as long as that meat is produced in a sustainable manner ( http://www.polyfacefarms.com/principles.aspx ) and the huge negative externalities are internalized. I don’t hear any economists talk about this issue, even though John Robbins wrote his seminal book “Diet for a New America” more than a decade ago, addressing many of these points.

    It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. There are other costs associated with factory farming, like the sh!t lagoons, antibiotics, unnatural diet of corn fed to animals to fatten them up, subsidies given to factory-farm businesses etc. I don’t think that the price we pay at the grocery store for meat reflects this reality. Maybe those economists who champion free-markets should start working on this distortion and correct it. :)

  • AV

    Why was Amory Lovins not invited to this talk? He was recently included among the list of “America’s Best Leaders” by US News & World Report ( http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/best-leaders/2008/11/19/americas-best-leaders-amory-lovins-energy-scientist.html ).

    I’m sure he would have offered a wealth of ideas on the green issue being discussed by Tom Ashbrook and his guests.

  • Andre from Sacto

    As somebody who wants to invest in green companies for the long term does anyone have suggestions on good places to do research? The green buzz word is in full effect and I am not sure who is real and who is chaff. What blogs and news groups are good?

  • Gray Kinnie

    I missed the opportunity to call in. Three very important points from a Solar Engineer:
    I will skip points one and two till the end to get to the most important that seem to be missed by everybody:
    We most need a replacement for gasoline. The most plentiful stored energy around us is in plants. Most of that energy we can’t use because it is locked up in cellulose. But many bacteria, bugs and animals can turn it to sugar and others can turn that into ethanol, a gasoline substitute. There are about 20 companies working on cellulosic ethanol, eleven of them being weakly funded by DOE. We need to increase that support by ten fold.
    Next, our efforts in battery technology are so unreasonable. The Chevy Volt uses 400 lbs of battery to store the energy of one gallon of gasoline. The cheapest energy storage media is compressed air. It costs 54 times as much to store one KWH of energy by lithium-ion battery than it does with with compressed air. Ref. Forbes 11/24/2008, p. 124. Two groups have been working on compressed air cars (for 11 years in Nice) and longer in So. Australia. The former gets about 125 miles on a charge which costs about $2. Tata motors is taking up the effort now. A4Z is working on a conversion system for US cars and another company is developing an SUV.
    Now to the most obvious: The best way to save energy is to eliminate the need.
    First, insulate your home. Build using “Super Insulation” technique. Retrofit poorly insulated areas. Use double or triple pane windows, insulating curtains/drapes, window caulking…etc., all local labor intensive. In Fla., FPL paid half the cost of upgrading my poorly insulated attic in a 30 year old home I bought in 1983. This paid for itself in one season by saving AC costs. Second, Solar is so expensive because of non-standardization and high labor costs. In the Holy Land, every home uses one or more solar hot water heaters, one by two meters, circulated by convection. At least for swimming pools, there are some do-it-yourself systems out there; that avoids the high lobor costs.

  • Edward Boughton

    I wrote this in greater detail to Obama and others. Suggesting that what the government needs to do, is to bulk buy the components that are needed to redevelop our energy infrastructure. For example… The higher cost of an electric car is not the vehicle, it is the batteries. Same is true with solar panels on other green products. If government commits to buying the quantities needed to bring the cost down to the lowest per unit price. If we can consume 600million units then we commit to buy that many and then we sell them to at cost to US manufactures (for US use) can build green houses and cars for the same price as conventional ones (make a profit for export).

    Then if we take idle factories (like GM) to build Wind Turbines, Solar Hot water Heaters, Solar Electric, Wave/Current Generators we can start building a green power grid.

    There are people that offer the service one-off. To help stimulate the auto industry quickly. Auto makers can make retro-fit Kits(electric motors or hybrid) that can be sold and installed by dealers to bring many existing cars green.

    Low cost public works are, weather stripping, rebates for energy star appliances and lighting.

    The main public works program should be building a Smart Grid. As we and move energy anywhere in the nation, we can then effectively use Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Thermo power. Once we start saving energy we can use coal and gas power plants as the backup generators and we can retrofit them for cleaner operation.

    There is a lot we can do…

  • Frederic C.

    Compared to coal, nuclear is Kermit.

    In terms of the reduction in our life expectancy, does anyone know how many silent Chernobyls are happening each year?

  • MyronK

    I finally got through at around 10:50 and they said there wasn’t enough time to introduce this as a new idea to here goes (great show BTW).

    A way to stimulate the economy, grow US jobs and reduce energy consumption is to fund a massive swap-out of inefficient HVAC systems (air conditioners and boilers) and appliances. Many of the top manufacturers are US companies manufacturing in the US (Carrier, Honeywell, Lennox, Trane, Burnham, A.O. Smith, Mestek, GE, Whirlpool), they already have Energy Star rated products that are developed and available that are way more efficient than what is currently installed and in use. Most consumers don’t buy these super efficient products because they are more expensive and the ROI is not always clear.

    Rather than giving consumers stimulus checks to buy plasma TVs made in China that increase power consumption, give them very substantial rebates/incentives to swap out inefficient air conditioners, boilers and appliances with new (hopefully US-made) products. This is not just a 10% off type of promotion but a financial incentive that really motivates people to act.

    Everyone wins: the retailers like Best Buy and Lowe’s have something to sell, manufacturers have to add jobs to meet demand and have profits to invest in even higher efficiency products, trades people get service revenue from the installation, consumers will save money from greater efficiency and we reduce our consumption of electricity and carbon footprint.

    California has shown that mandating super efficient systems and appliances can have dramatic results in reducing consumption. I’m no economist but believe that something like this could stem the energy consumption tide until we develop new renewable technologies.

  • Frederic C.

    Decouple holidays with consumerism.

  • Frederic C.

    Sorry, from.

  • Alex Szczech

    Investing in green technology is a no-brainer. Hopefully Obama, with his superior communication skills, can build the popular support necessary to to get this done.

  • http://www.greenstoreandmore.com Matt D.

    Arguing that Green Energy should no longer be a priority because of low oil prices is an example of the worst type of short-sightedness. It’s only a matter of time until gas prices sky rocket again. It may take 12-24 months but it will happen. And when it does happen it will be comforting to know that the appropriate amount of resources are being invested in sustainable energy sources.

  • globi

    Germany introduced feed-in tariffs 1990 already and German together with Danish wind turbine companies own 70% of the windturbine market worldwide.

    The solution: ‘feed-in tariffs’ already exists and has been a success for over a decade (particularly in Europe)!

    The feed-in tariffs are adapted/lowered each year to prevent a cost explosion and since it only pays per kWh which has actually been produced, there’s no corruption, bad-quality etc. possible.

    Germany had 235,000 people working in the renewable energy sector 2006 already!

    Renewable energies do create many jobs and a fast growing job market. It’s a proven FACT – not theory!

  • Frederic C.

    Next, our efforts in battery technology are so unreasonable. The Chevy Volt uses 400 lbs of battery to store the energy of one gallon of gasoline. The cheapest energy storage media is compressed air……….[Gray Kinney]

    To be clear, that’s energy storage in a massive cavern, that allows for storage of off-peak production. It is then available for delivery at peak periods. Not for powering cars al la whooosh.

    Do you know how much energy is required to fill a compressed air tank?

  • Steve Adamson

    Who is John Galt?

  • Doug from St Louie

    Great Subject.

    I’ve distanced myself from you(On Air) in the last couple of years but keep up the good work and I’ll return along with several others.

  • Doug from St Louie

    Remember that gas prices dropped dramatically without drilling for new oil!

  • Doug from St Louie

    I’m currently an electrician at an ammunition manufacturer in the rust belt. I spend more time worrying about losing my job than I do working.

    I feel there may be relief to lose my position and go to work as green collar electrician. I know the machines I fix every day are contributing to war.

    I say we sand down the rust belt and paint it green.

  • http://www.vce.org/chloramine Ellen P

    I was hoping to hear on this program today about the car that runs on air. If you haven’t heard about this, check out this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRpxhlX4Ga0

  • Julie from Michigan

    Though the big three auto companies do have headquarters in or near Detroit, I find it a vast misrepresentation and somewhat ignorant when people use “Detroit” as a synonym with the companies. The people of Detroit began to lose their jobs in the late 1950s and the city has continued a precipitous population decline since then. Meanwhile most white-collar executive families live outside Detroit, causing the greatest disparity of income between areas in the US. I don’t think that “telling Detroit” what to do is any way to address the poverty, lack of access to food and health care, and a decaying infrastructure – it’s important to recognize both the difficult context and the hard work of the residents of Detroit.

  • Jim L

    The energy issue is an incredibly complex set of problems, both economic and scientific. Unfortunately both masters must be served. Producing new clean and efficient energy sources will definitely take additional capital. Unfortunately, (for the alternative energy idea) the price of oil has dropped drastically in the last two months. This has greatly reduced if not removed the profit motive behind the push for new cleaner more efficient energy sources. The might of the US economy will not get behind the alternative energy movement unless there is an expectation of profits for the companies/shareholders involved.
    This leaves a Manhattan Project type of government investment as one possible solution. The problem here is that the government is terribly inefficient, and the potential for fraud, waste and abuse is rather large. Because of this, I believe that a better way to ensure this profit motive is by setting an artificial price floor on the price of oil through a tax. By doing this, alternative energy companies would be able to invest in technology and could have a certain amount of protection against drops in price that suddenly make them unviable from a cost standpoint. This would also increase government revenues that could then be used for incentivizing energy efficiency projects, and new green tech projects. Finally, it would give consumers an incentive to purchase energy efficient appliances, vehicles, and homes. The high cost of energy over the last two years has destroyed the SUV market, and caused people to focus on energy efficiency in many areas of their life for the first time since the early 80s.
    Energy is currently lower in price due to the global recession that we have entered, but this will change in the near future when the economy picks up. China and India will continue to grow if at a slower pace, and will consume increasing quantities of energy. This will of course drive the price back up. Added to that fact is the problem that eventually we will run out of fossil fuels. When that occurs, energy costs will sky rocket. We must ask ourselves if we want to spend a moderately larger amount for energy now, or do we want to be crippled by an astronomical increase at some time in the future caused by increased demand, and greatly reduced (eventually completely) production of fossil fuels. A higher gas price right now in order to develop alternatives will be much less painful.
    We must also look at the time frame required for developing these alternative energy projects. They are not items that pay off quickly. Coupled with this is the fact that executive compensation is often based on current profitability and or stock price. This gives corporations incentive to focus on the immediate and does not pay a dividend for forward thinking and long term focus. On the government level, I think that a floor on oil price will provide the long term price stability in the energy market for corporations to look to forward and invest in long term projects. At the corporate level, I would like to see boards of directors base executive compensation on future profitability. This gives the executives the incentive to look to the future and not use short term fixes that make the books look good now at the expense of the corporations’ future success, and would drive these forward looking projects that are incredibly profitable when oil is 100, 200 or 300 dollars a barrel. Warren Buffet if you are listening…

  • http://www.green2gold.org Derek

    I enjoy listening to your show and today’s was not a disappointment. I’d encourage all those interested in this space to read Dr. Hermann Scherr’s book, “Energy Autonomy”. He’s an MP in Germany and was instrumental in setting govt policy such that the market could know the rules of the games. Since then Germany’s solar use and job creation has been noteworthy.

  • kevin

    If you force ‘green” it won’t work. There has been nothing stopping “green” power except that it’s too expensive and not reliable.

  • globi


    ironically, China has roughly 10 times more solar hot water capacity installed than nuclear power. Even though China subsidizes nuclear power and does not subsidize solar hot water collectors.

    Maybe green is too expensive for Americans, but according to the facts, it is obviously affordable for the Chinese people:

  • Topic

    Wow, I found the comments of listeners are more practical and insightful than the guests on the show.

    Great brain storm, I hope these are the people are involved with government’s green projects.

    I feel hopeful now.

  • Ed L.

    I just read Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Hot, Flat, and Crowded” which surveys a wide range of worldwide issues and describes how they are all connected to varying degrees to energy.

    Combine that with the timing of the auto exec’s pleas to Congress, and it just reinforces for me that the right prescription is:

    1. Let them go bankrupt
    2. Institute a gas tax that keeps oil over $100/barrel
    3. Create a federal portfolio requirement for utilities similar to some of those enacted in some states and Europe
    4. Then initiate a federal Green Deal program so that any auto factories that get closed down or workers laid off get converted to producing green energy products (thru tax breaks and retraining programs).

    I believe this will address many connected problems:
    - unemployment (putting workers into a new industry we can be more competitive in)
    - health (improved energy efficiency and reduced usage will improve air and water quality)
    - balance of trade with China (they will be importing our green tech)
    - dependence on oil (even though we don’t import most of our oil from the Middle East, it’s a world market so we effectively do, and every fluctuation in oil prices makes it impossible for us to make thoughtful long term investments)
    - middle east violence (Friedman makes the claim that historically extremist violence and reduced state freedoms in the Middle East go down as oil revenues go up; that the most free and non-violent societies in the Middle East are those that don’t rely on oil revenue alone – so let’s start shifting the importance of oil now)

    I agree with all the points regarding the high energy density and low cost of oil, but that low cost isn’t real. We pay for all the indirect costs of oil (and coal) in other ways (military expenses, health expenses, etc…). And it is true that few alternatives except nuke are capable of immediately replacing the scale of implementation of oil, but that’s why we need to pursue a portfolio and that’s why we need a scale of free market investment on the level of the dotcom boom (I think Friedman said it was over $500 billion) after the government sets the right price signals to guarantee the investments of wall street will not be wasted.


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