The invention of the solar panel epitomizes the power of human ingenuity. With a recent contract for solar power in Chile awarded for less than $0.03 per kilowatt hour, Bloomberg New Energy Finance chair Michael Liebriech says, “Solar power delivers cheapest unsubsidized electricity ever, anywhere, by any technology.” By harnessing the strongest energy producer known to the world at an affordable price, low-carbon energy technology represents a new paradigm for electricity consumption.
But as cheap as solar has gotten, the global challenge of climate change cannot be solved by solar alone. A full solution requires multiple industries waking up to the reality that inventions like the solar panel are heralding a new era of market potential and employment opportunity.
Any aspiring entrepreneur who questions the possibility for large-scale and sweeping innovations to tackle a global challenge has history to look to as a proof. In the same way that our national domestic mobilization helped secure victory in World War II, we must marshal our resources to confront global climate change today.
By pursuing innovation, generating jobs, and doing our part, industry can help lead a climate mobilization effort with the same spirit and fervor that lifted the United States out of the Great Depression and defeated one of the most dangerous fascist regimes in history. A cover article in the New Republic recently made the case for viewing climate change as a global enemy–and the analogy delivers important parallels for the role of business, industry, and innovation.
The idea that necessity is the mother of invention, and America’s uncompromising resolve for victory in World War II generated inventions that continue to enhance our lives today. The world’s first computer, for example, arose out of America’s wartime inventiveness. The same spirit is apparent in new applications to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today. Climate change poses a massive threat to our civilization. It’s also the greatest economic opportunity of our time.
More than 1 million solar customers have been served across the U.S. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts this figure will grow to 2 million within just two years. The exponential growth of solar energy is a testament to private sector innovations like the pioneering “no money down” concept, which brought solar technology to scale in the early 2000s.
Workforce dedication was also instrumental to winning World War II. During the war, 16 million men and women served overseas, but more than 24 million remained at home and were employed by jobs related to the war. Today, there are more than 3.8 million “green energy jobs” available, following a 13% increase from 2013 to 2014. If industries continue to mobilize around climate solutions, this number will only increase.
Market opportunities were not the sole reason for the widespread worker mobilization of World War II. The country needed everyone to do their part to win, so industry was drafted to serve. One company during the war famously transitioned from manufacturing seat cushion fabrics for Ford to creating parachutes. “Victory gardens” grew across the country to increase food production and support the troops and many American’s committed to eating less meat, both simple ways that individual people could demonstrate their support.
Americans did not ask for World War II, but the “greatest generation” rose to the challenge and helped affirm the democracy and economic prosperity that continues to benefit our country to this day. We did not ask for the challenge of rising sea levels and increasing floods and wildfires today. But the impacts of climate change are here, and they will only continue to escalate unless the U.S. mobilizes in much the same manner we did to win World War II.
America emerged from the era stronger than ever before. Now it is our generation’s turn to charge into battle and identify innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of technologies are ready for deployment at scale. The U.S. and countries around the world have industrial capacity that is sorely underutilized. It is time to get those resources retooled and cranked up to manufacture and deploy climate change solutions. No war of this magnitude can be won without resolute support from American citizens and the private sector. By working together today and reviving the unification we shared during World War II, we can win the war on climate change.
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