WASHINGTON — In a thundering speech at times both passionate and humorous, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday called for both political parties to set ideological debates like climate change aside and instead focus on the undeniable benefits of a green revolution.
“There is a disconnect between what is happening and what is being debated,” he said. “For too long, we have been fighting over greenhouse gases and global warming. Where is this getting us? What has this brought us?”
Speaking to a packed house at the second annual ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C., Schwarzenegger called for an end to green gridlock.
“If we haven’t convinced the skeptics right now, we’re never going to. Let’s just move past the old arguments. We need both parties to create an energy future. One party can’t do it alone.”
Drawing parallells between the political upheaval in the Middle East and the emergence of clean energy, Schwarzenegger said both were an occasion to “subvert the status quo,” “overthrow the old order” and, in the case of the latter, begin a “new era of American competitiveness.”
“In 50 years, this country will not be what it was,” he said. “It will be much better.”
CALIFORNIA AS THE NATION’S MODEL
For most Americans, the biggest problem is not saving energy, it’s the economy and jobs. But those are inexorably linked, and the next generation will not have a higher quality of living if the status quo is preserved, Schwarzenegger said.
“It is absolutely clear that the green economy is a way to keep America competitive abroad,” he said. ”Clean energy is the next great wave of innovation.”
Unsurprisingly, Schwarzenegger used California as a clean energy foil for the rest of the nation: the state with “the biggest wind farms” and solar plants is seeing green jobs as the “largest source of growth” in the state, up to 10 times higher than growth in other sectors, he said.
Giving biofuels startup Solazyme — which converts algae into oil that’s 90 percent cleaner than petroleum-derived oil — a shout-out, Schwarzenegger said major clients — like the U.S. Navy — are making bets on cleaner energy sources.
“We’re not talking about some environmental weirdos, we’re talking about the Navy!” he exclaimed. “When the United States Navy takes on a goal, you know it’s going to happen. That’s a follow-through organization.”
Schwarzenegger imagined a world in which the U.S. implemented three policy initiatives from California:
- A goal of 40 percent energy efficiency. The average American electricity bill would drop $560 through mandates for weatherizing homes. “Republicans and Democrats would like that,” he said. It would also save 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases each year.
- A 33-percent renewable standard by 2020. Right now, California’s at about 20 percent. “We could close three-quarters of our coal plants,” he said.
- Pass laws to make cars more fuel-efficient. Obama has already taken a page from California’s book and adopted these. Would save motorists an average of $1,300 per year. “You see, when you have an energy policy, you save money,” he said.
“Why are we debating the science when we could be discussing the progress?” he asked rhetorically.
COMPETING ON THE GLOBAL STAGE
“China is an old culture with new ideas,” he said. “We cannot let America be a new culture with old ideas.”
The U.S. can’t sit on the sidelines, he said.
“When it comes to human rights, we didn’t say to China, ‘OK, you go first.’ When we went to the Moon we didn’t say to Russia, ‘You go first.’ When we built the first computer, we didn’t say Japan, ‘You first.’ Our homeland security should not be compromised by foreign oil.”
Schwarzenegger said every U.S. president since Eisenhower has been asking to wean the U.S. off foreign oil, yet imports have risen from 20 percent to 60 percent during that time. Why? Because America does not have that energy policy, he said.
“Why should a dried-up country like Libya with a crazy dictator like [Muammar] Qaddafi play havoc with America’s oil prices?” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
HEALTH AS A DRIVER
Schwarzenegger said the U.S. sees 100,000 premature deaths each year from petroleum-related air pollution, as well as 6.5 million annual hospital visits each year from respiratory problems caused by the same thing — more deaths than car accidents, drunk drivers, gang wars, suicides and soldier deaths in Iraq & Afghanistan combined.
“You can’t just keep talking about global warming — people can’t relate to that,” he said. “But people dying, they can relate to that. Jobs, they can relate to that.”
ODDS ‘N’ ENDS
More highlights from the quotable former governor:
- On the defeat of California’s Proposition 23, in which conservative groups attempted to gut environmental laws: “The people said, ‘hasta la vista, baby’ to all those oil companies and they terminated them.”
- “Our environmental laws are not for sale. They are good for the economy and jobs…they are good for the future.”
- “You are all technologists. I believe with all my heart in what you’re doing.”
- Finally, to U.S. energy secretary Steven Chu: ”Steven how are your glutes? They need a little bit more work.”
More from the 2011 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit: