These developments result from tectonic movements in the economy. Globalization and technological change have steadily eroded—and continue to erode—the demand for American brawn. In 1966, American factories employed millions of industrial workers, making products that were shipped to far poorer places. As technology spread, the world’s lower-wage countries started manufacturing. Asia’s economic tigers initially thrived because of low labor costs, but these increasingly educated countries eventually achieved technological parity with—and sometimes became superior to—many American industries.
Enhanced geothermal energy is potentially a nearly limitless source of competitive electricity. Increased energy efficiency is already saving businesses money and reducing emissions significantly. New generations of biomass energy — ones that do not rely on food crops, unlike the mistaken strategy of making ethanol from corn — are extremely promising. Sustainable forestry and agriculture both make economic as well as environmental sense. And all of these options would spread even more rapidly if we stopped subsidizing Big Oil and Coal and put a price on carbon that reflected the true cost of fossil energy — either through the much-maligned cap-and-trade approach, or through a revenue-neutral tax swap.