The Apollo Alliance

I embrace my son (is this the last time?) as he embarks on a new high-risk assignment. It’s 2012, and the draft has been in effect for the past five years. But this time, it’s a domestic deployment.

Two years of drought and devastating tornados have decimated the grain harvest; there is no surplus. Mobs in search of food and fuel now control portions of our major cities. OPEC has further reduced its oil output, and gas is $5 a gallon. My son will travel to a metropolitan area to help secure distribution sites for food and fuel.

OR

It’s 2012, and the United States leads the world in renewable-energy resources. Integrated energy and national-security policies have freed us from reliance on foreign oil. The U.S., which once consumed one-quarter of the world’s oil (three times as much as any other country), now generates most of its power via solar, wind and biomass techologies. My son works in one of the new energy industries, teaching Third World countries how to become self-sustaining. Several years ago, this country played a key role in forging a global treaty that balances economic growth and environmental concerns. All major world powers have signed on, and the enhanced stability in developing countries has reduced the spread of terrorism.

Sound impossible? Naysayers, read on …

One of the most heartening pieces of news I’ve read recently was an Asheville Citizen-Times story about the Golden LEAF Foundation. This nonprofit corporation, funded by half of the state’s share of tobacco-settlement funds, makes grants to nonprofit and government agencies to help retrain displaced tobacco and textile workers. To date, Golden LEAF has received about $278 million; the money is helping tobacco farmers learn hydroponic farming, mushroom cultivation and how to raise native ornamentals as a cash crop. Farmers will process their crops at A-B Tech’s Enka campus, to help them fetch a higher price. Another Golden LEAF grant has created a methane-reclamation system serving Mitchell and Yancy counties, where landfill gas powers kilns and furnaces for potters and glass blowers. Last year, Golden LEAF enrolled 1,223 students in community colleges, awarded 225 scholarships to public universities, and began retraining 4,695 folks for new jobs in rural communities.

It’s a brave start, but it’s not enough. Since January 2003, 5,000 jobs have been lost in Western North Carolina alone. How can this devastating trend be reversed?

Call on our politicians, educators and community leaders to endorse the program advocated by the Apollo Alliance, of course! This broad coalition of labor, environmental and business groups has a blueprint for freeing America from dependence on foreign oil and creating 3.3 million new jobs within 10 years. The name pays homage to John F. Kennedy’s Apollo Program, which aimed to put a man on the moon in 10 years; in fact, Neil Armstrong walked that ground after only eight. The Apollo Alliance calls for strong leaders — acting with focus and guided by a new vision — to meet today’s domestic and foreign challenges.

Consider what seemingly impossible goals a united America has achieved in the past. During World War II, once we fully committed to the Allied cause, we converted from a peacetime to a wartime economy in a matter of months. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, cites this example to show what this country can accomplish when we’re convinced of the need to restructure and respond rapidly to a global challenge.

The Apollo Alliance wants us to channel as much energy into its program as we did to landing a man on the moon. The group’s 10-point plan to help America take charge of its energy future calls for:

1. Promoting advanced-technology hybrid cars.

We have the ability to raise federal fuel-economy standards for SUVs and trucks; the gas saved would equal the amount of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

2. Encouraging high-performance construction methods.

Edward Mazria, writing in Solar Today, says our current building methods consume 48 percent of all energy produced in the U.S. Japan now leads the world in solar technology — a field the U.S. created and dominated in the 1980s. High-rises in Japan are equipped with solar roof panels that produce energy all day long.

3. Investing in more efficient factories.

4. Increased use of energy-efficient appliances.

Whatever happened to conservation? Investing in energy-efficient lights, refrigerators, cars, TVs, air conditioners, etc. would create thousands of jobs while significantly curbing energy usage.

5. Modernizing electrical infrastructure.

This would protect the environment while avoiding blackouts.

6. Expanding renewable-energy development.

Nine of the world’s 10 leading wind-turbine manufacturers are in Denmark, Germany and Spain, with Germany the top producer. The U.S. Department of Energy expects wind to supply 5 percent of our electricity by 2020. (Do we want to manufacture our own turbines or buy them from Europe?)

7. Expanding transportation options.

Diversify city and country systems with bicycle, bus and high-speed rail.

8. Reinvesting in smart urban growth.

Upgrade local infrastructure, including road maintainance, water and wastewater systems.

9. Planning for a hydrogen-based future.

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