Our congressional leaders have spent more than a week mired in debate over an economic bailout. Fingers are being pointed, blame is being assigned, and the rest of the United States has watched as the market plummeted.
Here we are talking about bailing out our financial markets at a tremendous cost to the American taxpayer. Political leaders are talking about the need to rebuild the economy and Wall Street and they say Americans might make money back on this huge expenditure.
Now isn't the time for maybe; it's time for a real plan that will benefit every American. The amount being talked about, $700 billion, is roughly equal to this year's bill for imported oil. If we really took ending our addiction to oil seriously, we could repay the U.S. Treasury for the bailout. Afterall, it's hard to see any other pot of money lying around that's big enough.
To save our economy in the long term, we need to change our priorities. Let's rebuild our energy infrastructure. People are losing their houses in part because their mortgages are too high, but they also can't afford their utility bills and the cost of driving. If we massively retrofitted homes and offices to reduce energy waste and lower utility costs, and aggressively improved vehicle fuel efficiency, might the return on those investments be higher than any $700 billion bailouts?
And that's not to mention all the jobs created to make those improvements.
We should be inspiring another industrial revolution for the United States. If we invest in clean, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, and if we invest in dramatically increasing energy efficiency, we will create millions of jobs and boost our economy.
According to a recent report from the Center for American Progress, investing $100 billion in clean energy will create two million jobs in two years alone.
A clean-energy economy will revitalize America with good-paying jobs that can't be outsourced; jobs like solar panel installers and home weather-stripping specialists.
The jobs that will benefit from that investment stretch all industries, from manufacturing and transportation, to installation. As we put America to work building this clean energy economy, workloads will increase exponentially for many including welders, sheet metal workers, truck drivers, software engineers and many others.
This investment will secure our energy independence, helping us to stop borrowing from one country to pay another for oil.
Let's refocus our priorities. Why do we continue to subsidize the multi-billion dollar oil industry instead of bolstering the renewable industry? And why did we approve yet another bailout for the auto industry ($25 billion in loans), which is complaining that they need help restructuring in order to produce more fuel efficient cars?
The auto industry asked for and received a similar bailout in the 70's, only to show in the past 30 years that there's been no change in how they operate. These giants continue to fight regulations calling for more fuel efficient vehicles despite the American public overwhelmingly demanding such cars. And now we're loaning them money to do what we've been asking them for years?
Besides investing heavily in clean energy, another powerful plan to help Americans would be to enact a carbon pricing program, wherein the biggest energy polluters must pay for the amount of global warming-causing CO2 that they produce. This will not only generate billions of dollars for Americans, it will also encourage polluters to clean up their act and spur clean energy innovations from them.
This financial crisis we've entered needs a real solution. Congress and the White House stopped calling it a "bailout" and started referring to a "rescue plan." The question is who really needs to be rescued? We need a plan that benefits hard-working citizens by restoring our economy, creating jobs and securing our energy independence.
Carl Pope is executive director of Sierra Club.