Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Generation E: A Guest Blog From Author Amanda Little

We are very excited to have a guest blogger with us! Amanda Little, author of Power Trip: The Story of America's Love Affair With Energy and influential environmental journalist, has written the wonderful blog below exploring the next generation of citizens and their increasingly important role in the energy crisis. How big of a role do your students see themselves playing in the global environmental future? What do they want to see happen? What can they do that make sure that is does? This thought-provoking blog is sure to spark some interesting discussions on an issue that should be of great importance to everyone.

Generation E—The Energy Generation

Most people pushing for energy and environmental progress in America are feeling utterly defeated. All attempts to pass major energy and climate legislation have failed in the past two years. And for next two years, at least, Congress is locked in stalemate.

But one segment of Americans—college students—seems to have been mercifully insulated from despair. In recent months I’ve spoken with students in engineering, history, science, geography and American Studies departments on campuses from California to Delaware. Our discussions about the future of energy in America have been unexpectedly moving to me – spiced with thrill, curiosity, conviction, and a healthy measure of fear.

The students have shared, on the one hand, their concerns that their generation will bear the brunt of challenges that loom so large--climate change, instability in the Middle East, economic volatility--challenges that stem largely from our dependence on fossil fuel. But almost without fail, the students’ concerns are eclipsed by their excitement--about belonging to a generation that is being called to innovate, to problem-solve on a grand scale, to rebuild virtually every facet of the American industry, and to restore our leadership role in the global economy.

They understand that they belong to Generation E—The Energy Generation. They understand that, going forward, the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.

Since the publication of my book, Power Trip: The Story of America’s Love Affair With Energy, I’ve spoken with audiences that span political and demographic spectrums—corporate executives, engineers, scientists, garden club members, boy scouts, teachers, and investors. I describe how fossil fuels built the American superpower, and how today the very source of our strength has become our greatest vulnerability. I make the case that the energy is not just the most important story of our time, but also the most hopeful story of our time.

Audiences are understandably concerned that our shift from fossil fuels to clean alternatives will be a painful one, beset with high energy prices, economic collapse, the end of life as we know it. The same question comes up every time: Won’t moving off of fossil fuels kill jobs?

My response is: Yes, some. But it will create many more. In fact, building a new energy economy in America will be the biggest job-creation engine of the next century.

Given current growth trajectories, America is expected to produce 800,000 new green jobs by 2012. These are skilled, innovative jobs developing solar, wind and geothermal power, biofuels, electric cars, advanced batteries, sophisticated plastics, smart grid components, green chemicals, zero-energy homes, and local and organic foods.

College students will not be prepared for this emerging job market if they don’t understand the role that energy has played in shaping American industries, politics and culture. Not since the first decade of the 20th century has our nation seen such an extraordinary burst of innovation within one decade. We need to cultivate in students awareness and pride—that they are inheriting a great American legacy of technological ingenuity, and that they are participating in a historic shift.

Consciousness is growing quickly. On virtually every college campus in America there is evidence of it. Students are mobilizing to green their own facilities – more than 1000 U.S. colleges and universities signed pledges to go carbon-neutral. They’re also working beyond the campus -- with local communities to retrofit homes with energy efficiency features; with city and state officials to get clean-energy incentives and standards passed.

Through websites like energyaction.net and 350.org, students are harnessing social media to tease out ideas and problem-solve on a grand scale – connecting not just with other American universities, but with students all over the world.

College campuses have always been on the front end of social change—that was true with the civil rights movement, it was true in the overthrow of communism, and it will be true in the historic shift toward anew energy economy. After all, no one stands to lose more in this shift than Generation E – and no one has more to gain.

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