THE ENVIRONMENT

July 25, 2008

We are now faced with a similarly momentous challenge: global warming. The steady deterioration of the very climate of our very planet is becoming a war of the first order, and by any measure, the U.S. is losing. Indeed, if we’re fighting at all—and by most accounts, we’re not—we’re fighting on the wrong side. The U.S. produces nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases each year and has stubbornly made it clear that it doesn’t intend to do a whole lot about it. Although 174 nations ratified the admittedly flawed Kyoto accords to reduce carbon levels, the U.S. walked away from them. While even developing China has boosted its mileage standards to 35., the U.S. remains the land of the Hummer. Oh, there are vague promises of manufacturing fuel from switchgrass or powering cars with hydrogen—someday. But for a country that rightly cites patriotism as one of its core values, we’re taking a pass on what might be the most patriotic struggle of all. It’s hard to imagine a bigger fight than one for the survival of the country’s coasts and farms, the health of its people and the stability of its economy—and for those of the world at large as well.

The rub is, if the vast majority of people increasingly agree that climate change is a global emergency, there’s far less consensus on how to fix it. Industry offers its plans, which too often would fix little. Environmentalists offer theirs, which too often amount to naive wish lists that could cripple America’s growth. But let’s assume that those interested parties and others will always be at the table and will always—sensibly—demand that their voices be heard and that their needs be addressed. What would an aggressive, ambitious, effective plan look like—one that would leave us both environmentally safe and economically sound?

Forget precedents like the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb, or the Apollo program that put men on the moon—single-focus programs both, however hard they were to pull off. Think instead of the overnight conversion of the World War II�era industrial sector into a vast machine capable of churning out 60,000 tanks and 300,000 planes, an effort that not only didn’t bankrupt the nation but instead made it rich and powerful beyond its imagining and—oh, yes—won the war in the process.

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