Chicago Tribune

As someone who has financially invested in solar power, I have been asked a lot lately whether the country’s economic troubles will imperil our nation’s transition to cleaner, low-carbon energy sources. The assumption behind the question, of course, is that clean energy is a luxury we can no longer afford. Further, it suggests that investment in clean energy, and the technologies needed to deliver it, only makes sense when oil and gas prices are high.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it’s this misconception that for the past three decades has given us a reactive energy policy and left us more dependent on foreign oil. Moving away from dirty and inefficient power sources is utterly essential to U.S. economic competitiveness and to the security and health of the planet. It will also be the business opportunity of the 21st Century.

Barack Obama and John McCain took up this theme in their presidential campaigns. Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Program, recently proposed a global “Green New Deal.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon argues that it can be a solution for world poverty as well as climate change.

But is now the time? Americans are hurting financially as real estate values and stock pricesfall, credit tightens and layoffs mount.

The simple fact is that the United States needs a massive new investment package to get our economy out of the ditch. And where better to invest but in our future?

In my career, when confronted with an obstacle, I always looked for an unconventional angle or approach — some way to turn the issue on its head and shift the advantage toward our side.

It is a scientific certainty that if we are to survive as a species, we will have to live in a carbon-constrained world. If we don’t change our behavior, we will increase global temperatures by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the most recent report from the International Energy Agency. That is three times the level of temperature gain that scientists say will trigger abrupt and irreversible changes in our climate.

The IEA also projects that worldwide investment in energy will total $27 trillion between now and 2030. Are we going to invest all that money in smart things, or keep on doing the dumb things that got us into this mess?

President-elect Obama should make investment in clean energy — and the infrastructure to support it — his top economic priority. His decision to create a new post in the White House to coordinate energy and climate policy across all government agencies is an important step in that direction.

If we’re going to help out Detroit, let’s make

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