December 11, 2008
There was something profound in the relationship between Daddy Hal and my Dodge Coronet.
Daddy Hal was my “grandfather” on my dad’s side. He wasn’t my actual blood granddad. That was a man named Cledys Watson, who died when my father was a young kid.
My grandmother (that would be “Grammy” to you) married Daddy Hal when my father was in his 20’s and before I was born. Daddy Hal was a very good, solid man, and he was great to my grandmother and really as good as he knew how to be to us grandkids. He was also a very conservative, precise, squared-away guy. He was a man of strongly fixed attitudes, routines, and practices – set like concrete in his ways.
He was, in other words, the kind of guy who never knew quite what to think of my first car.
I loved that car – a very used Dodge Coronet 440. I tricked it out and made it as pretty as anyone possibly could have with such a profoundly “previously owned” vehicle.
I gave that car a lot of very, very cool teenage touches that Daddy Hal didn’t exactly relate to – take the faux-leather steering wheel cover, please.
But in the end, deep down, I don’t think his problem was the exquisite seat covers or the fancy chrome tail pipe extension I added or any other detail.
I think it was the car. I’m not sure Daddy Hal ever really saw the need for a kid my age to have a car. He volunteered his opinion. I got history lessons and the privilege of hearing about how, when he was that age, he’d ridden a horse. Daddy Hal said that pony served him well for a long time and was about all he needed to get around.
Really, from the time he was 16 to the time I was 16, Daddy Hal didn’t change all that much. But the world did.
For a while now, I’ve compared those leaders who doubt the seriousness of climate change and importance of clean energy to my very, very dumb dog Emma. And, yes, that was pretty funny, if I do say so myself.
But they’re really more like Daddy Hal – they’re having a hard time understanding how much the world has changed and where they’ll end up if they don’t change along with it. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, except that as some of these particular folks fall behind the rest of the world, they’ll drag too many of us backwards with them.
More and more of the world is approaching this issue in a dramatically new way. And the debate over clean energy doesn’t hang as much anymore on the complexities of climate science, futuristic technology, and energy economics. At this point, it all really comes down to one question:
Are we going to embrace the future, or are we going to fight it?
That question only gets more urgent as certain members of the state’s leadership stand in defiance of likely federal action on climate change – and in open contempt of the scientific consensus that has come to define this issue. In fact, the most remarkable thing to me about Texas’ debate over climate change is how so much of the world has moved beyond it.
This isn’t a traditional environment-vs.-business issue anymore, not by a long shot. It’s about our economy. It’s about our future.
One of the relatively rare points of agreement in the just-concluded presidential campaign concerned climate change. Whether the Republican or Democrat won last month, Texas and other states were almost certain to face new rules on the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (of which Texas emits more than any state in the country). Many of those states, meanwhile, have already taken at least tentative steps to address this issue. And other countries are making huge strides in cleaning up their emissions and developing new, renewable technologies.
Then there’s the energy industry itself. This profitable power center that Texas has dominated for decades is starting to voluntarily move away from oil, coal, and other fossil fuels that made this state an energy hub. The industry, even in Texas, is preparing for new carbon emissions rules and inventing the wind turbines, solar panels, and alternative fuels that will power the 21st Century.
This transformation was on full display in Austin last week during the Clean Energy Venture Summit. It was my honor to deliver a keynote speech at the summit, which was a terrific showcase for the creativity and passion that so many bright people are pouring into this industry.
It’s hard to come away from that kind of event without feeling like you’ve looked into the future of a rapidly transitioning economy. But it also raises that same tough question.
Are we going to pursue and embrace the future to ensure that Texas will be open for business and competitive on an international stage?
Or are we going to be like my Daddy Hal – accommodating change only incrementally, reluctantly, and suspiciously as the world passes us by?
The truth is that Texas is already doing a lot of things right.
The state has made a huge investment in wind power and is about to make another big one in transmission lines to serve this new capacity. More and more leaders are making priorities of solar power and alternative fuels. And Texas is doggedly supporting entrepreneurs and researchers who could be pioneers in the clean energy industry.
But we need to do more.
We’ve got to quit fighting the future and instead embrace it. We need to ask scientists, engineers, and companies for help cutting emissions and encouraging renewable energy. And we need to work with regulators to ensure that Texas does not suffer unjustly for it’s vital role as a 20th Century energy producer.
More than anything, we need to corral the needlessly divisive, win-lose rhetoric that sends the worst possible message to the world.
There’s no doubt that cutting carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions is a tough challenge. But the technologies and industries that will emerge from that effort also represent a massive opportunity – the chance to power the planet in new, sustainable, really popular ways for generations. We should be shouting to the world that we’re open to this sort of business, not complaining about the future and making excuses for avoiding it.
We only get one shot at this, one chance to build an economy that will allow our children and grandchildren to prosper as we have.