Like thick smog hanging stubbornly overhead, many of the arguments against President Obama's climate change policy are stagnant, potentially dangerous and pose a serious, long-term threat to America's future. The naysayers have called the president's plan everything from "sheer fantasy" to "massive sacrifice," but they are tethered to antiquated, 20th century mindsets.
This is not, as the Flat Earth Society would have you believe, a debate between clean energy and a robust economy. Today, we can have both, and solar – along with other renewable energy sources – is showing how to make this possible.
From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation's future prosperity more than climate change. That's why it's so encouraging to see President Obama finally take a firm stand on such a critically important issue.
This is a watershed moment in our nation's history. Today, climate change is a real and growing threat to America and the rest of the world. It's indisputable. Sea levels are rising. We're experiencing more intense and unpredictable storms. And droughts plague the world.
Clearly, climate change threatens our economy, our future progress, our health and safety, and even our way of life. Every day the earth suffers a little more from human neglect. We can't wish this problem away, and pointing fingers won't solve it, either.
To his credit, President Obama understands that and has embraced new technologies. We commend him for offering a pragmatic plan to combat climate change and to mitigate the impacts of carbon pollution. But this isn't just the president's legacy at stake – it's also ours. Let's not be remembered as the generation of Americans that could have made a difference but didn't.
America's solar energy industry is uniquely poised to help. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of new energy in the United States. More than 30 utility-scale, clean energy solar projects are under construction, putting thousands of electricians, steelworkers and laborers to work and helping to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. These facilities, along with rooftop solar on homes, businesses and schools, will generate electricity for generations to come.
There is now more than 8,500 megawatts of cumulative solar electric capacity installed in the U.S. – enough to power more than 1.3 million American homes. What's more, in the first quarter of 2013, more than 48 percent of all new electricity added to the grid was solar. In addition, innovative solar heating and cooling systems are offering American consumers cost-efficient, effective options for meeting their energy needs.
Today, solar employs nearly 120,000 Americans at more than 5,600 companies, most of which are small businesses spread across the United States, making solar one of the fastest-growing industries in America. Part of this amazing growth is attributed to the fact that the cost of a solar system has dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past two years, making solar more affordable than ever. And, as solar continues to scale up, costs will continue to come down.
Yet the debate about climate change isn't simply about money. It's also about our legacy as a people. Abraham Lincoln said it best: "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today."
Clearly, President Obama understands that.
Rhone Resch is president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.