"Is anybody out there not having a good time?" -Buckaroo Banzai from the movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
What does a report on the state of the American education system written by the wonky New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce have to do with global warming? As it turns out, plenty.
There are two economic arguments put forth by the global warming doubters to derail any action on climate change. The first: implementing the necessary changes to reverse global warming will, hypothetically, ruin the economy. The second: India and China refuse to limit their emission of green-house gases, so why should the United States cap carbon and leave itself vulnerable to unfair competition.
Sadly, globalization combined with a sub-par educational system has left many American workers vulnerable to real economic hardship under our current system. Any job which preforms routine work can, and will be, automated or moved off shore where the work will be performed by highly educated workers who are willing to work for half the cost.
According to The New Commissions report:
"If we continue on our current course, and the number of nations outpacing us in the education race continues to grow at its current rate, the American standard of living will steadily fall relative to those nations, rich and poor, that are doing a better job. If the gap gets to a certain–but unknowable–point, the world’s investors will conclude that they can get a greater return on their funds elsewhere, and it will be almost impossible to reverse course. Although it is possible to construct a scenario for improving our standard of living, the clear and present danger is that it will fall for most Americans."
And what exactly, is the scenario The New Commission envisions which could reverse this dangerous trend:
"The application of information technologies has by no means run its course, but there is every reason to believe that several other technologies are poised to make a similar impact on the same scale. Among them are nanotechnology, biotechnology, and a group of technologies that may hold the key to energy independence. Through history, new sources of energy, particularly steam and electricity, have powered decades-long economic growth, destroying entire collections of old industries and giving rise to new ones."
In order for the United States to continue to dominate as the world’s economic super-power, there needs to be a drastic shift in our national priorities.
The educational system will need to be radically reconstructed to produce a new type of student. This student will have the skills in mathematics, English, and science which are equal to, or better in quality, compared to the highest standards of our economic rivals, namely India and China. But this alone will not be enough, as The New Commission explains:
"The crucial new factor, the one that alone can justify higher wages in this country than in other countries with similar levels of cognitive skills, is creativity and innovation. Our firms will not win unless they can produce not merely an incremental improvement on the lower-cost competition, but with ideas that will lead to a quantum leap in value to the customer."
Given this new economic reality, the second argument against action on climate change seems ridiculously short-sided. By choosing not to innovate and develop the clean energy necessary to limit, if not eliminate the production of CO2, India and China have given the United States a huge opportunity to get back in the game.
Let’s have some fun and seize this opportunity.