Posts Tagged ‘competitiveness’

By Alex Trembath, originally posted at Energetics

“The America COMPETES Act, originally passed in 2007 in response to major challenges to US economic competitiveness spelled out by the National Academies’ seminal report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, is up for re-authorization.”

The COMPETES Act is designed to strengthen R&D funding for “critical science and technology agencies,” and so represents a vital component of any US action on energy policy. The process of decarbonizing the economy and replacing our ubiquitous carbon-fueled energy infrastructure is certainly the most massive and urgent technological challenge of our time, and we will need not just carbon prices and conservation but unprecedented scientific and social breakthroughs to guide our path. The best way to locate and realize those breakthroughs is through public and private activity, research and experimentation.

This whole story reminded me of a quotation from The West Wing, which I labored to dig up for my loyal readers:

“Great achievement has no road map. But the X-ray’s pretty good. So is penicillin. And neither were discovered with any practical objective in mind. When the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless; and now we have a whole world run on electronics. Hayden and Mozart never studied the classics – they couldn’t. They invented them. “

– Dr. Dalton Milgate, “Dead Irish Writers”

The energy quest requires great achievement, practical objectives and a complete redesign of global infrastructure and economies. Dr. Milbank’s invocation of the electron and his overall motivation in The West Wing is very appropriate for our discussion – his above soliloquy was intended to persuade a US Senator to invest $12 billion in particle physics for one simple purpose: discovery.

The fate of the COMPETES Act (along with RE-ENERGYSE, the climate/energy bills in Congress, and our nation’s long-term effort on energy technology policy) will determine if America is serious about discovery, about competitiveness. If we fail, we will take our place in the new world order as a second-rate nation – once the standard bearer of free enterprise and scientific ambition, but now too economically short-sighted and politically gridlocked to rise to the challenges of our times.

Alex is an environmental economics major at UC Berkeley, and founder of the Energetics Blog.


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