Google and MIT tackle global heating

What do you do when your government does nothing to incentivize clean energy and is attached at the hip to coal and oil companies? You go your own way and start developing your own clean energy. And what do you do if you’re a NYTimes commentator who has been frustrated over the lack of government action on global heating? You give the aforementioned groups much needed free press in your Sunday commentary.

Tom Friedman wrote about Google’s recent “RE<C” clean energy initiative and MIT’s open-source plug-in hybrid project in his commentary on this past Sunday. And while I felt Mr. Friedman spent a little too much time quoting some of The Onion’s recent satire, his basic premise is nonetheless a good one – when the government fails to lead, its up to the people to do so, and on global heating, the people are doing so.

Fortunately, the two initiatives that Mr. Friedman talked about are not the only ones out there – they’re but a small sampling of the actual initiatives. For example, 27 U.S. states now have renewable energy standards in their laws or state Constitutions and two more have implemented voluntary standards. Tesla Motors is putting out an all electric car that performs right up there with your average, run-of-the-mill Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Lotus (which actually won the Tesla design competition and is building them in the UK for Tesla) and Toyota is testing a plug-in hybrid version of its Prius. Uber-retalier Wal*Mart is putting its purchasing power behind the sales of compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of cheap incandescent or halogen bulbs.

It’s a great start, but it’s not enough. Sure, President Bush claims to care about global heating, but he’s still all talk, no action because most of the groups who support him don’t want action. Thankfully, though, that too is changing.

Public and corporate action is necessary – without both, nothing will happen. But we’ll ultimately need government action at the federal level in order to maintain the momentum we’re building at the grassroots and state level. Thankfully, President Bush has just over another year in office, and no President, Democrat or Republican, will be able to oppose the growing public interest in global heating forever.