Hugh Bollinger
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What kind of propellers should we build?

By Reilly Capps How much should a country spend on its military? And how much should it invest trying to power itself? China is answering that question one way. The U.S. is answering it another way. China is, of course, poorer than us. But their priorities are clearly tilted toward trying to power themselves. Even though their economy is smaller, the government invests more on developing clean tech than we do ($65 billion vs. $45 per year, according to one report. Another report says they invest twice as much as we do). Clean tech will power the 22nd century, and probably the 21st. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="368" caption="Windmills in Xinjiang, China"]Windmills in Xinjiang, China[/caption] And though China spends a lot on their military -- $105 billion,  second only to us -- we spend seven times as much as them: $737 billion, if you count homeland security and the wars abroad. So, therefore, the Chinese are investing about two-thirds as much on clean tech as they spend on their military. If we did that ... holy crap ... we'd invest almost half a trillion dollars in clean tech. As it stands, our government invests about a tenth as much on clean energy as we spend on the military. Does this make sense? What's going to matter more in the coming century? After all, renewable energy is not like oil. There have been boom and bust cycles in oil production. Azerbaijan was once a world a leader. Then the oil dried up. Texas once exported huge quantities. Then the oil dried up. [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="269" caption="The oil in Texas is getting harder to find, which is why much of the drilling has moved near the beach, like this one, or off-shore, in the Gulf of Mexico"][/caption] The oil will dry up in Saudi Arabia, too. But clean tech will not dry up. And whichever companies or countries can become the Microsoft or Standard Oil of clean tech can expect to reap profits for decades, maybe centuries, without any major busts.   America is still doing OK. Counting private money, we're investing more than anyone else (though less per capita than many countries). But since we want to win the future, not just limp along, shouldn't we be investing far, far more than anybody else? Shouldn't we take some of the money from defense and put it toward energy? Haven't we arrived in an era when knowledge and power create and sustain superpowers, not military might? There are clearly threats out there. We still need some military. There may come a day when we'll have to square off against China in an Armageddon-like battle to the finish. And, in that case, maybe it's wise that we spend seven times as much as them on our military. Maybe it makes sense that our Navy battle fleet, for example, is bigger than the next 13 navy fleets combined, even though 11 of those are our allies. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="249" caption="USS Winston Churchill. That's about a billion dollars right there. "]USS Winston Churchill[/caption] Maybe there will be a huge naval battle sometime soon. Over, say, Taiwan. Or North Korea. Maybe it makes sense to keep spending and spending and spending on the small chance that we'll engage in conventional war with our biggest trading partner, or that they'll try to obliterate us, the country that owes them the most money. But why would they fight us? Why would we fight them? And so maybe we should build more windmill propellers and fewer ship propellers. Because there is guaranteed to be a battle over who will supply the world with energy. And right now, we're not exactly winning.
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