Ohter views: U.S. must move away from dirty coal to renewables

Don't know about you, but when I see things in nature that I've never seen in my life, it starts to feel creepy, like a "Twilight Zone" segment. I half expect to wake one day and find Rod Serling mowing my lawn - in shorts.

Why not? Last December was the fourth warmest on record, and 2006 was the hottest year in America since 1895. It was declared the hottest in Britain since 1659.

Even the White House seems to have noticed. Al Hubbard, the president's economic adviser, says Bush will soon unveil an energy independence strategy that will produce "headlines above the fold that will knock your socks off." Since everything the president has done on energy up to now has left my socks firmly in place, I will be eager to hear what Bush says.

Neither the White House nor the Democratic Party seems to grasp that the public and business community are miles ahead of them on this energy/environment issue. The presidential candidate who finally figures that out, though - and comes up with a compelling

energy/environment agenda - is going to have a real leg up in 2008.

What would be compelling? I used to think it would be a "Manhattan Project" on energy. I don't any longer. I've learned that there is no magic bullet for reducing our dependence on oil and emissions of greenhouse gases - and politicians who call for one are usually just trying to avoid asking for sacrifice today.

The right rallying call is for a "Green New Deal." The New Deal was not built on a magic bullet, but on a broad range of programs and industrial projects to revitalize America. Ditto for an energy New Deal. If we are to turn the tide on climate change and end our oil addiction, we need more of everything: solar, wind, hydro, ethanol, biodiesel, clean coal and nuclear power - and conservation.

It takes a Green New Deal because to nurture all of these technologies to a point that they really scale would be a huge industrial project. If you have put a windmill in your yard or some solar panels on your roof, bless your heart. But we will only green the world when we change the very nature of the electricity grid - moving it away from dirty coal or oil to clean coal and renewables. And that is a huge industrial project - much bigger than anyone has told you. Finally, like the New Deal, if we undertake the green version, it has the potential to create a whole new clean power industry to spur our economy into the 21st century.

To spark a Green New Deal today requires getting two things right: government regulations and prices. Look at California. By setting steadily higher standards for the energy efficiency of buildings and appliance, California has held its per-capita electricity use constant for 30 years, while the rest of the nation has seen per-capita electricity use increase by nearly 50 percent, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. This isn't rocket science. Government standards matter. They drive innovation and efficiency. And prices matter. They drive more and cleaner energy choices. So when the president unveils his energy proposals, if they don't call for higher efficiency standards and higher prices for fossil fuels - take your socks off yourself. It's going to get hot around here.

Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist for the New York Times, can be reached at New York Times, editorial department, 229 W. 43rd St., New York, NY 10036.