It comes as no surprise that China is competing with us for global supremacy - in business and technology and, as world energy supplies become scarcer, for resources as well. I spent the spring semester in Beijing studying the growth of the Chinese clean energy sector, and the comparisons are striking. In the race to create jobs, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and reduce pollution, the United States is not simply falling behind; we are not even playing the game.
While we are busy fighting two wars, the largest oil spill in history and a recession, and playing partisan politics, China has been ramping up a clean-energy economy that has the potential to vault it ahead as a world leader. China has a goal of doubling its alternative-energy industry by 2020, though its private sector hardly needs incentives; the People's Republic is already the largest manufacturer and exporter of clean-energy technology, from solar panels to windmills.
Against this background, the Senate failed to pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation. There is plenty of blame to go around, from Majority Leader Harry Reid's partisan politics to the dishonest attack ads paid for by the oil and coal lobby. The Republicans were obstinate and obstructionist, the Democrats weak and uninspired.
Even an obvious lesson from the most disastrous environmental tragedy in our country's history was lost on Washington: Offshore drilling will never be the answer to our energy needs. With 2 percent of world reserves and 25 percent of consumption, the United States cannot make a dent in our growing dependence on foreign oil, even if we drilled on every available deposit. Anyone who says that increasing domestic reserves will increase our energy security is either misinformed or pandering for votes.
More important, if the name of the game is economic growth, how can we consider drilling now that the BP disaster has shown the crippling impacts of a disaster on coastal economies? South Carolina in particular should not be included in the federal government's 2012-17 gas leasing program. Independent, scientific assessments rate the mid- and South Atlantic as having the least amount of oil while being the most environmentally sensitive of all Outer Continental Shelf regions.
Policies should be guided by cost-to-benefit analysis. To drill in South Carolina, as some politicians propose, would be to take a huge risk for a tiny prospect of return. Our energy challenge requires a strategic response, not an "all-of-the-above" approach.
Furthermore, how can we consider leasing our coast for exploration when we have yet to fix the root of BP oil disaster? South Carolina has a long and vocal tradition of mistrusting big government. Where is that resistance now? Why are our state leaders showing so little concern about the federal agency that would be managing the resources three miles off our coast?
A growing spectrum of Americans on both the right and the left believe Washington is broken. Part of the answer lies in the way special interests have bought off politicians and put corporate greed above the common good. The federal government gives billions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives to an oil industry that does not stand by the American consumer while public officials ignore the advantages of creating incentives for a clean energy economy. A recent study concluded that investing $100 billion would create four times more jobs in the clean-energy economy than in the oil industry.
Developing a clean-energy economy means more jobs in domestic construction and manufacturing, which would jumpstart local markets across the board. It will also help create a cleaner, safer and more secure world for our children. The federal climate bill failed partly because many politicians are unable to see this future, but those of us who represent the leaders of tomorrow do. It is my sincere hope that Sen. Lindsey Graham renews his leadership on the issue.
The United States is at a crucial juncture, and we have important decisions to make. Will we fall behind China and other our global competitors by continuing to invest in the technologies of the past, or will we put true American ingenuity to work, develop an economy for the future and rise to the challenge? The choice is ours.
The writer lives in Irmo.