Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

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.


Read Full Post »

rejected_graduates-thumb-200x180Lying in the rejected scrap heap created by the Senate’s passage of the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3183) is RE-ENERGYSE, President Obama’s $115 million energy education program that he proposed last April.

Designed to usher in a new generation of young clean energy innovators by improving education in math and science, RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge) was a crucial part of Obama’s plan to drive our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy and maintain global competitiveness in the race for clean energy. Unfortunately, the Senate roundly disregarded Obama’s vision to meet the clean energy challenge when it appropriated none of the $34.3 billion in energy spending last week towards the program. Meanwhile, the House only appropriated $7.5 million to perform an assessment study.

By providing necessary educational resources and research opportunities, RE-ENERGYSE is precisely the kind of program the United States needs in order to inspire students to pursue careers in clean energy fields. Had it received funding, the program was slated to prepare approximately 8,500 talented young scientists and engineers to enter the clean energy workforce by 2015 – just for starters. What Congress has failed to recognize is that this fundamental investment in our nation’s youth is critical to facilitating a rapid transition to a clean energy economy.

According to a recent op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle by the Breakthrough Institute’s Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris, only around 15% of undergraduate degrees in the U.S. are awarded in the fields of math and science. And as Wall Street investment firms aggressively recruit the nation’s top students — not just in economics and finance, but in math, engineering, and physics — more and more of our nation’s best and brightest scientific minds are directed away from clean technology innovation and into the financial sector. (more…)

Read Full Post »

The opportunity to advance transformative, progressive change has never been greater. Now, in the wake of the 2008 election and the historic Power Shift summit, young progressives have a unique opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture: How can the we continue advancing bold solutions on energy and climate? What can young people do beyond energy and climate? And if national climate legislation succeeds, what’s the next “Big Idea” for the progressive youth movement?

These are just some of the ideas we’re exploring in a Special Breakthrough Issue – “After Power Shift: What’s Next?” – to examine the next steps for the progressive youth movement. The issue will include contributions from some of the country’s top young leaders throughout the week, and we hope you’ll join the discussion. Here’s our first piece to kick it off.


Want to Save the World? Make Clean Energy Cheap.

By Teryn Norris & Jesse Jenkins
The Huffington Post

Over 12,000 young adults attended the recent Power Shift 2009 summit in Washington, DC. Their goal? Building the largest youth movement in decades to save the world from global warming.

Largely missing from Power Shift, however, was a critical group: young scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Maybe it was mid-terms. Perhaps the event seemed too political. Or maybe the summit recruited too many traditionally-defined “activists.”

Whatever the cause, we have very little chance of overcoming climate change without enlisting young innovators at a drastically greater scale. Simply put, they represent one of the most important catalysts for creating a clean energy economy and achieving long-term prosperity.


Read Full Post »

Mother Jones ran a great piece by Chris Mooney in its November/December 2008 Issue, “How to Rescue the Economy and Save the Planet,” that recommended a National Energy Education Act:

THE GEEK SHORTAGE: According to the National Science Foundation, American universities graduated a record number of science and engineering PhDs in 2006–almost 30,000 of them. So we should have plenty of scientists to set to work on the energy challenge; yet, as a recent study from the Urban Institute explains, “each year there are more than three times as many S&E four-year college graduates as S&E job openings.” What gives? Turns out a lot of those graduates are in the biological sciences–which, coincidentally, saw a massive boost in federal funding a few years ago.

What we need is a new Sputnik scare: After the Soviet Union put the first-ever satellite in orbit, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, providing about $6.5 billion worth (in today’s dollars) of funding for graduate fellowships, low-interest college loans, and new research equipment and facilities. Why no National Energy Education Act today?

Chris is a contributing editor to Science Progress, senior correspondent for The American Prospect and author of two books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, selected as a 2007 best book of the year in the science category by Publisher’s Weekly. He was one of the first to support my and Jesse Jenkins’ proposal back in August, when he wrote a piece for Science Progress, “A New Mission for American Science,” where he said:


Read Full Post »

Here at the Breakthrough Institute, we have held that making clean energy cheaper, rather than “dirty” (i.e. carbon intensive) energy more expensive, is the most effective way to spur the innovation we need to transition our energy dependence to new sources. In the absence of cheaper renewables, however, ever-rising oil prices are already prodding innovation into effect.

Let’s acknowledge the uncreative response to higher energy prices and voter turmoil at the outset: yes, drilling for more oil in Alaska is neither innovative nor interesting, nor a way to lower America’s oil bill. But more has arisen out of $147/barrel oil (the most recent high; as of today it has dropped back down to $123/barrel) than the routine of panic. Thomas Friedman wrote today that

The only good thing to come from soaring oil prices is that they have spurred innovator/investors, successful in other fields, to move into clean energy with a mad-as-hell, can-do ambition to replace oil with renewable power.

Here’s some examples of recent interesting, astonishing, and innovative ideas that have arisen largely due to higher energy costs.

Read Full Post »