In Thomas Friedman’s latest column, he praises Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts because he “took one for the country.”  Friedman sees that “America today is poised for a great renewal” if only it can get some “big, centrist, statesmanlike leadership.”

Logically, there would be some renewable (energy) in America’s renewal, right?

Wrong.  Here’s Friedman’s vision for America:

Our newfound natural gas bounty can give us long-term access to cheap, cleaner energy and, combined with advances in robotics and software, is already bringing blue-collar manufacturing back to America. Web-enabled cellphones and tablets are creating vast new possibilities to bring high-quality, low-cost education to every community college and public school so people can afford to acquire the skills to learn 21st-century jobs. Cloud computing is giving anyone with a creative spark cheap, powerful tools to start a company with very little money. And dramatically low interest rates mean we can borrow to build new infrastructure — and make money.  [emphasis mine]

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I’m generally a fan of Thomas Friedman.  He’s got an everyman way of writing about big issues, with a passion for practicality, especially when it comes to rebuilding America.  But for a man who regularly talks of the opportunity of 21st technology, this is a very 20th Century vision.

Here’s an alternative:

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The stodgy National Renewable Energy Laboratory says that renewable energy like wind and solar can meet at least 80% of our electricity needs by 2050.  (note: most forecasts of renewable energy generation by “reputable sources” lowball it, by a lot).  This isn’t just long-term energy, it’s infinite.  There are no refills on natural gas.

Two thirds of American states have the local resources to meet their entire electricity needs with renewable energy like wind, water, and solar.  Within a decade, 100 million Americans in the largest metropolitan areas will be able to get cheaper electricity from solar on their rooftop than from their utility.  

And what about the economy?  Solar and wind create several times the jobs per megawatt of electricity capacity (data below from Putting Renewables to Work published by UC Berkeley).  Local ownership of distributed renewable energy resources can double and triple, respectively, the jobs and economic impact of our energy generation.

Big, centrist, statesmanlike leadership isn’t found in last century’s energy sources.  We aren’t going to frack our way to a cleaner, brighter future.  We need a bold, 21st century vision for energy.

If President Obama wants to lead on energy, he should declare independence from a fossil fuel past and give Americans a vision for clean energy self-reliance.

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

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