The Breakthrough Institute, a progressive think tank founded in 2003 (see the 3P post Environmentalism is Dead: Why Doomsday Doesn’t Work), is hoping to generate support to convince the next Congress and President to pass a National Energy Education Act to help “lay the groundwork for a new energy economy”
Modeled after the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (pdf) in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the NEEA would direct government investment toward training the next generation of Americans in “strategic energy-related fields”.
The legislation would specifically support training in engineering, technology, science, mathematics, business, and policy, assisting students pursuing innovation in energy development as they move through the educational system and on into a professional career.
As is consistently reported here in TriplePundit, the challenges faced in our changing world present commensurate opportunities. As the American Solar Energy Society states in a report entitled Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: Economic Drivers for the 21st Century (pdf), there were 8.5 million new jobs created in 2006 in renewable energy and efficiency technologies. The potential for continued growth is real, but a limiting factor is a lack of trained workers with the right skill-set to meet the needs of a new energy economy.
Meeting that need starts with proper education.
America’s leadership role in science, technology, engineering, and math is at risk, according to the Breakthrough Institute, citing a report in Education Week that shows American students typically score in the middle of the pack in science and math.
While the STEM Education Coalition exists to “support support programs for teachers and students at the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM related programs” (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), the current legislation authorizing investments to improve STEM education and renewable energy R&D have yet to be fully funded, despite wide bipartisan support.
The National Energy Education Act would, according to the Breakthrough Institute, fill this dangerous gap and provide a long term commitment to developing the expertise required to keep America’s economy competitive and growing in a new energy economy.
According to Teryn Norris and Jessie Jenkins in an op-ed appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle the cost of the NEEA would be $1.5 billion – or less than the daily price tag the U.S. pays for foreign oil. The investment in clean energy would “more than pay for itself”, much as the earlier National Defense Education act did in the late 50’s and 60’s as it helped pave the way toward the information-age economy we take for granted today.
Most people reading TriplePundit are well-educated, innovative and understand what is required for a new, sustainable energy economy, if not actually working to help achieve it. But I wonder if you, dear reader, are too much the exception instead of the rule.
I do not necessarily advocate any particular legislative package. My aim here is to present the ideas from the Breakthrough Institute and discuss the need for a more aggressive and comprehensive program in America for educating coming generations in the “STEM” subjects.
It seems as if the past eight years has fostered too much of an “anti-science” dialog, from the federal government to fringe groups too easily swayed by a propaganda machine geared to sow confusion over important energy and environmental issues. If America wishes to maintain, or regain, it leadership role in our brave new world, it will start with how well we educate the next generation.