COPENHAGEN — Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has a well-earned reputation as a sharp, level-headed practical leader. Most people wouldn't describe him as a visionary.
But in his excellent speech on Dec. 11 in Copenhagen, he laid out the case for profound transformation and the explosive economic opportunities that come with it.
"Think for a moment about the long-term emissions targets we are all considering. President Obama is calling for an 83 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. You're not going to meet those targets with a wind or solar farm here and there. What's required is nothing less than completely rethinking the way we produce and consume energy.
For well over a hundred years, much of the world has enjoyed two luxuries that helped propel the greatest burst of sustained economic growth in human history.
No. 1: fossil fuels were cheap and abundant. And No. 2: we either didn't know about or didn't care about the greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning those fuels. Those days are over.
The cost of fuel has risen, while the cost of those emissions is ferociously high. If we don't curb the carbon, we imperil the planet.
In the next few decades, we need to rebuild and reinvent virtually every industrial activity; from power generation and transportation to manufacturing and construction, to run efficiently and economically in a carbon constrained world.
So when we talk about the potential of job creation arising from clean energy investments, we're not just talking about someone working for a solar or wind company.
We're talking about creating an entirely new model of economic growth....The potential new business and new job creation is astounding."
Given the late hour, I am going to take the liberty of putting words into his mouth here. I choose to infer: The Commerce Secretary is saying is that if we focus on science, and head for 350 (parts per million), we unlock transformational potential and unlimited economic opportunity. (Yes I know that 83% reductions from a 2005 baseline in the U.S is not a path to 350. Just work with me here.) But if we take our broken politics as a ceiling and limit our aspiration to 60 (votes), we expose ourselves to the "ferociously high" cost of climate disruption.
I know we have to get through 60 to get to 350. But I worry deeply about the obsessive focus on 60, when we talk about our goals for U.S. climate policy.
Sure, our political minds need to plot the course to 60 in the coming months. And yes, what happens here is part of that course. But seriously, it's late, and the whole world is here, not just Senator Inhofe.
Right now, in Copenhagen, when we have arguably the last opportunity for the world to affirm its intent to save itself, what's the most important number? At what point does vision become the only practical alternative?