Clean Energy is the 'Space Race' of Our Age | Sojourners

Clean Energy is the 'Space Race' of Our Age

Last Tuesday, as a member of Catholics United, I joined countless others in Washington, D.C., to lobby on behalf of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454 ). This bill, which now will go before the Senate after narrowly passing 219-212 in the House of Representatives, promises to curb pollution in America, increase green jobs, and protect the poorest of the poor in the country who may not be able to afford the expenses accompanying a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.

More specifically, the bill:

  • requires that U.S. industries reduce their polluting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050.
  • seeks to make new and existing buildings more energy efficient.
  • plans to invest an estimated $90 billion in clean energy by 2025.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act would place the U.S. among world leaders in developing sustainable energy and technologies. It would also lend the U.S. global legitimacy as it prepares to enter the Copenhagen climate discussions in December. This is essential since the U.S. has fallen behind clean energy leaders in the "space race" of our time.

Though the bill is not perfect, it is a start and could be modified later. The concern now is that American Clean Energy and Security Act passes from the Senate to President Obama's desk. It is my hope that our Republican and Democrat senators recognize the importance of this bill, which, in my opinion, is severely overdue.

In 1982, physicist Fritjof Capra prophetically wrote in The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture that "for the first time we have to face the very real threat of extinction of the human race and of all life on this planet." Among the many threats to life, he cited the mass production of nuclear weapons, the then multi-billion dollar defense budget, and the various environmental threats enveloping the planet, such as blankets of smog covering cities and the plethora of harmful chemicals found in food, water, and the air. This deterioration of the environment, he mentioned, resulted in declining physical and mental health.

Twenty years prior to Capra's work, in 1962, marine-biologist Rachel Carson's landmark book Silent Spring alerted the world to the harmful effects of pesticides (most notably DDT) on humans and the natural world's ability to bring forth life. Writing in the introduction to the fortieth anniversary edition of Silent Spring, Linda Lear praises Carson's work for having initiated "a transformation in the relationship between humans and the natural world and [having] stirred an awakening of public environmental consciousness."

With nearly six decades of growing knowledge and evidence about environmental degradation and its consequences for future generations, what are our politicians waiting for? The time for action is now. After the American Clean Energy and Security passed the House, President Obama said:

My call to every senator, as well as to every American, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we must not be prisoners of the past. Don't believe the misinformation out there that suggests there is somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and economic growth.

Will our children and grandchildren look upon us as innovators who do not fear the unknown? Or will they view us as supporters of the status quo who wait for the rest of the world to take charge in the "space race" of our age?


César J. Baldelomar is the executive director of Pax Romana Center for International Study of Catholic Social Teaching and blogs at He is editor of the Notebook Magazine, and he will begin graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School in the fall.

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