Preparation Meets Opportunity

Today we continue our series of the winning essays submitted to Dean of Freshmen, Fred Siegel.  These freshman were selected from over 300 of their peers to attend a dinner with Dean Siegel and author, Thomas Friedman.

Our featured essay of the day is by freshman, Krista Mancini.

As the financial system teetered on the precipice of oblivion, there was undoubtedly more than one approach to solving – or at least ameliorating – the crisis.  While most mainstream economists agree that we have reached the lowest trough of the recession, we face a steep and capricious climb back to an economic peak.  Although the United States remains on financial life support, our leaders boldly reassure us that the nation will undoubtedly recover from this interruption in American financial success.  As they compare this economic crisis to past blemishes on our fiscal record, we are told that the country is bound to recover, as it has always done in past instances of economic instability.  Yet how can we simply compare this crisis with past examples when the current political and social cultures of both the country and the entire globe have led to a heretofore unseen amalgam of differing opinions, hostile intolerance, and pressing global concerns?  Unfortunately, regardless of the genesis of the problem, party line driven responses offer no benefit and may, in fact, work against a practical solution to the myriad of issues that we now confront.  We have leaned that the world is flat, but perhaps our own country has become rocky and uneven terrain, a battlefield in the struggle to position the nation in a new direction.

As the blemishes of subprime mortgage defaults on the balance sheets of major banks began to pile up, Thomas Friedman crafted his newest plan for American success.  As professor Nouriel Roubini shared his gruesome predictions for the U.S. economy, and Paul Krugman channeled Lord Keynes in hopes of mending our economic situation, Friedman wrote.  As we listened to the bantering of political pundits and watched fear overtake the population as the global savings glut reached a financial breaking point, Friedman put the finishing touches on his work.  And finally, just as copies of Hot, Flat, and Crowded filled the warehouses of retailers everywhere in preparation for the book’s release, Lehman Brothers shut its doors.

Although consensus is as rare as a unicorn in Washington, as the political parties can find no common ground on a variety of issues, there does appear to be general agreement that we will need to address environmental problems in the immediate future.  While progressives and liberals seem to take the issue more seriously (and accept the science more willingly) than do conservatives, leading rightists from Newt Gingrich to Pat Robertson agree that there is, in fact, a problem that requires attention.

In that spirit, there may be opportunities to morph environmental vision with what appears to date to be a jobless economic recovery.  How often we hear pundits of all political stripes assert that the United States is now strictly a service economy, that we no longer produce anything of substance.  Steel is largely an overseas industry, textiles have long since left New England for Singapore and Malaysia, and although autos are still built in this country, the owners are most likely Japanese or Korean.  We have in front of us the opportunity to once again design and manufacture actual products in America, environmentally conscious products that will ultimately be exported across the world to combat the ravages of global warming and the folly of further reliance on fossil fuels.

Mr. Friedman asserts that there is no green revolution in America, and that we essentially “play” at being green – a feel good philosophy that produces limited results in the actual environmental arena.  Coupled with this indictment, Friedman also alleges that the United States has lost its national focus, particularly since the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  Yet the financial meltdown of 2008-09 would appear to provide the impetus to rouse us from our collective lethargy, trigger an actual green revolution, and combat the aftereffects of the most serious economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.

There will be naysayers that suggest our environmental concerns are overblown, just as there are still pockets of people that believe the world is indeed flat, in the most literal of senses.  Putting aside these fringe elements, I trust that men and women of goodwill and science will see the extraordinary opportunity that now faces us.  The production of wind turbines on a massive scale will employ thousands of people, just as installation, operation and maintenance will employ thousands more – no doubt in and of itself a tremendous societal benefit.  Yet in addition to providing paychecks for thousands of families, the energy derived from the resultant wind farms will replace millions of tons of coal and barrels of oil.  Not only will we reap a financial benefit from less reliance upon fossil fuels, but as still another benefit, the wind farms are ecologically preferable to the emission by-products derived from our current fuel sources.  You say you want a revolution? This is revolutionary, not merely playing on the margins.

General Motors recently announced that a number of furloughed autoworkers are being called back, as the redesigned company finally makes a legitimate commitment to green vehicles.  There is discussion of eco-friendly cars that may be able to deliver upwards of 200 miles per gallon of gasoline, coupled with pricing points as low as $4000.  It seems incredible on its face, that an industry widely castigated just months ago as a useless dinosaur can suddenly have a vision for the future.  A green vision…a revolutionary green vision!  We need to drastically and dramatically change our paradigm, become a nation that once again “can do,” building products for both domestic consumption and export.  The green revolution stares us in the face, a pathway out of the national malaise which so infects us, a pathway that produces tangible products and real growth, enabling us to compete once again in the global marketplace of both ideas and products.

Even in this era of rampant political partisanship, it will be hard to deny the benefit of the burgeoning green revolution, particularly so once the initial skirmishes in the battle are successfully fought.  If thousands and thousands of people are employed in only the two industries referenced above, and wildly popular products once more roll off the Dearborn assembly line into a garage near you (and that garage is heated with lower cost electricity generated from those wind turbines), there will be little need to “sell” additional green oriented proposals.  Success has a thousand fathers while defeat is an orphan; politicians, business people, Democrats, Republicans and Independents will race to introduce the next green initiative, hoping to capitalize on the convergence of full employment and energy conservation.

Success is often the result of preparation meeting opportunity.  We have an opportunity to change the world, the fortuitous legacy of a calamitous economic disaster.  Unfortunately, our preparation is lacking, as we have allowed the environmental debate to dissolve into partisan politics.  Yet this nation has proven its ability to prepare within the tightest of time frames, mobilizing a peacetime economy on December 6, 1941 into the greatest war machine the world has ever known within one short year.  Following the Soviet launch of Sputnik, a moribund space program landed a man on the moon within a dozen years.  A real revolution, a green revolution, with the attendant sacrifices and national resolve, can not only offer us a better world for tomorrow, but a stronger national economy today.  While we may no longer be on the precipice of financial ruin, we are on the precipice of a new day … if we take that first step.

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