As we begin this decade, Americans need to become aware of a major threat from China. It is not a military threat, but it is bad news.
We have had bad news before, but responded appropriately. For example, on Oct. 4, 1957, the United States was clobbered by a psychological Pearl Harbor.
Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite, was orbited by the Soviet Union.
Sputnik was deeply shocking. We assumed that we were the most advanced country.
When the USSR got atomic bombs, we rationalized that their spies stole our plans.
It was harder to believe that they stole our hydrogen bomb, since theirs was tested only six months after ours, but our brief lead helped us avoid panicking.
Sputnik was launched before we orbited anything, so the Soviets couldn't have stolen this ability. They also beat us by putting the first person into orbit.
Panic ensued, but America rose to the occasion. We upgraded high school science classes.
National Defense Education Act fellowships for future college teachers financed graduate studies, including my own Ph.D. work at Johns Hopkins.
More Americans, including yours truly, studied Russian.
And President John F. Kennedy prioritized going to the moon.
The dramatic news about Sputnik propelled us into an expensive but productive space race. On July 20, 1969 we won this race.
In doing so we produced many beneficial new technologies.
Entering this new decade, American technological supremacy is again threatened. This time it is by China. But, unlike Sputnik, this bad news crept up on us gradually.
We now resemble the frog whose pot is heated so slowly that it doesn't realize it is about to be boiled to death.
The current threat is revealed by statistics about the solar panels which convert sunlight into electricity. These panels have become cheap enough to threaten conventional power industries — coal, oil, natural gas.
Thanks to concerns about global warming and to their low cost, photovoltaic (PV) panels will probably dominate future energy technology. The country leading in producing and installing them will be the world's technology leader.
Current trends suggest it won't be the United States.
As of 2018 China was way ahead. Its total installed panels had a generating capacity of 176,100 megawatts (MW). The United States came in a dismal second with only 62,600 MW installed.
We fared even worse in PV generating capacity added in 2018 (10, 600 MW), and were beaten by India (10,800 MW added) and China (45,000 MW added)). The Chinese added more than four times as much PV generating capacity as we did.
In production of panels the differences between the U.S. and China were even scarier.
In this race for the future the dominant country will be China. Unless we do something.
To prevent this, we need to pursue solar energy on a much larger scale than the Moon race. We need to enter, and win, the solar power race.
We need legislation encouraging solar energy and government funding for massive research into its generation, distribution, and storage. We do not need a government which delays progress by trying to prop up doomed industries like coal and oil.
Recent reports that Warren Buffett is backing a humongous new solar energy project in Nevada are encouraging. Buffett is a shrewd investor who knows which way the wind is blowing.
But will there be an American politician like JFK to lead us into a race to regain technological supremacy? The 2020s will answer this question.
American leadership in the race for green energy will also help save the world from the climate disasters that Australians are now previewing. But even if there were no climate threat, we would still need to win this race to avoid becoming an industrial backwater.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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