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Clean energy isn’t about climate change any more, it’s about China. So says cleantech investor Alex Taussig. That’s his takeaway from last week’s summit of ARPA-E, the government agency tasked with funding energy innovations so crazy or with such far-off payouts that no private company would ever touch them.

“It used to be that the [three] legs of the cleantech stool were Economics, Security, and Environment,” Taussig blogs at GigaOm. But in an uncertain political and economic climate, the environment has taken a back seat to a much more immediate “threat”: China.

Investment in our clean energy future has a whole new rationale — fear of the mythic other!:

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[W]e’ve pivoted. China is now the third leg of the cleantech stool.

China is much scarier than global warming to the average American. Last year, China invested seven times more than Americans did into clean infrastructure, when measured as a percent of GDP. Its economy is growing rapidly, while ours is flattening out. It has the political flexibility to build projects “by fiat,” while we’re stuck in the muck and mire of permitting and NIMBYism.

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“In the context of China, cleantech is no longer about saving the environment. It’s about saving the U.S.A.”: 

As we look toward the 2012 elections, we must remember that the rules of the game have changed. The national balance sheet is now all the rage in D.C. As long as cleantech seems to conflict with that concern, it will face an uphill battle for federal support. We need to focus on reframing cleantech as China has itself — developing clean-energy solutions should be seen as competitive advantage that will bolster the U.S. of A over the next century.

This race could easily be transformed from “The Biggest Loser” to “Survivor”:

Grist’s David Roberts argues that our economic competition with China over which country will control the future of clean energy isn’t a zero-sum game. If we treat it like one, it could lead to practices that will hurt the entire planet’s chances of transitioning off of fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

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Read more:

The 2nd ARPA-E Summit: Same As It Ever Was? GigaOm

Are we in a ‘clean energy race’ with China? Grist