I was too early in my efforts to promote solar power, but now is the time.

March 19, 2009

Written by Robert Redford

In his State of the Union address, President Obama noted that although America invented solar energy technology, we have fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. He is right of course.

I remember when America was leading the pack on clean energy in the 1970s. We abdicated that leadership thanks to the influence of a fossil fuel industry with deep pockets and friends in the White House. But Obama reminded us of an important aspect of the American character: ingenuity. We are a nation of innovators, and we can harness that resourcefulness again to build a better future.

I saw that ingenuity emerge three decades ago, when the promise of renewable energy became clear to many of us. We were so eager to spread the word about solar power that we created “Sun Day,” the solar equivalent of Earth Day. We had events from Maine to Chicago to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir even agreed to participate in one event.

People were just starting to get excited about pollution-free power, but then Ronald Reagan became president and took the solar panels off the White House and the policies promoting renewable energy were stripped from the books.

In 1975 I produced a short film called “The Solar Film.” The people interviewed say they like how solar power cuts down on their bills, doesn’t have to be imported, and makes them worry less about terrorists. All of those benefits remain extremely relevant today, but we have lost three decades in the effort to extend them to more Americans.

I was too early in my efforts to promote solar power, but now is the time. We are getting a second chance–another American trait. If we don’t seize this moment, we will be too late to get the competitive advantage in a global marketplace, too late for the economic dividends, and too late to stave off the worst of global warming.

The Obama administration wants to see America double our supply of renewable energy in the next three years. Many lawmakers want to pass a national renewable portfolio standard, which would require a certain percentage of our country’s electricity generation to come from clean sources like solar and wind. Congress will likely vote this year on a bill to limit global warming pollution that will dramatically expand the market for clean power. These are the kind of bold, visionary actions we need right now. I urge you to call on your representatives to support them.

In this time of economic crisis and uncertainty, I am reminded of being a child during World War II. I have no nostalgia for the turmoil and suffering of those days, but I do recall the communal effort, the sense that we all rallied around to support the greater good. Today we are trying to achieve the greater good of shared prosperity, and I believe it will be built on a clean and affordable energy economy. With enough resourcefulness, I know we can do it this time around..

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