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A Conversation with

Authors of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels

Why is your new book, CLEAN ENERGY NATION (AMACOM; August 2011), urgent reading for not only policymakers and business leaders, but everyone with a stake in America's future?

Congressman McNerney: "With the perils of oil dependence as well as climate change now confronting humanity, America stands at a tipping point. Our continued consumption of fossil fuels will increasingly impact our national security, our economy, and our quality of life. Clean Energy Nation seeks to encourage the American people to become engaged in an honest and open-minded national conversation on how best to manage all of our energy resources for the good of our country."

How should we begin this conversation?

Congressman McNerney: "It's time to accept the fact that our modern civilization will pay a heavy price if we continue traveling down the hydrocarbon highway and stop sugarcoating the hard truth about our present energy situation. Catastrophic harms will come from our addiction to fossil fuels. On the other hand, great benefits are possible if we move forward and find solutions. Instead, let's use these doomsday scenarios to motivate us and step up our efforts to gain energy freedom. We are not helpless in shaping our destiny. There are viable solutions for a better future for all of us."

Would you share a specific example of the viable solutions to our dire energy crisis?

Marty Cheek: "Let's consider America's agricultural industry. America's farmers are starting to take advantage of the available solar resources by redesigning greenhouses to be more efficient at gathering and holding the sun's heat so that plants inside can thrive during cold seasons. This is done by installing double- or triple-pane glass on the greenhouse roof and constructing the building so that half of the walls are below ground level, thus providing greater insulation. Solar panels installed on barns and farmhouses can also help cut down on fossil fuels in daily farm operations. Photovoltaic or PV cells are cheaper to install in remote rural areas compared with installing miles of electric power lines, so as the price of this solar technology steadily declines with manufacturing improvements, panels will become an excellent way to power more American farms. PV cells will eventually become more cost-effective for pumping water in remote locations, too. And if farmers or ranchers have unused land that's suitable for large solar arrays, they might generate extra income by leasing out a piece of their property to a utility company or other business for the production of sun-powered electricity that can be distributed to a nearby community."

How resourceful! Speaking of which . . . why do you have faith in American ingenuity to prevail over the tyranny of fossil fuels?

Marty Cheek: "Since Benjamin Franklin, creating innovative new technologies that improve quality of life has been a proud component of American character. The technologies developed for energy freedom will strengthen our nation's security and help widen the gates to economic prosperity for our citizens."

How will placing a priority on sustainable energy have a positive impact on our troubled education system, as well as our troubled economy?

Congressman McNerney: "Scientists, mathematicians, and engineers are already sounding the call for better academic instruction for America's students to deal with the energy problems in the coming decades. Improving education in America is crucial to making sure we have the scientists, researchers, and engineers who will provide us with the energy-efficient advances we must gain in transportation, agriculture, national defense, manufacturing, communications, and other fundamental areas. Quality schools can provide us with the brain power we need to create exciting breakthrough innovations in biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, and other advanced tools necessary for ramping up America's sustainable energy industry. Providing better education to Americans in the quest for energy freedom will also stimulate the economy, revving up the growth of green-collar jobs. We need to build a green-collar workforce of men and women who have the competent technical skills required to construct and service a sustainable energy industry and infrastructure for the United States."

Without downplaying the hurdles ahead, CLEAN ENERGY NATION resonates with hope. Why are you optimistic about America's future?

Congressman McNerney: "Over the next decades, we will see new technologies and industries emerge to enable Americans to power their lives with sustainable energy sources and increased energy efficiency. The rewards that will come from transitioning to a clean energy nation and achieving energy freedom will make us stronger and more vibrant."

Adapted from CLEAN ENERGY NATION: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels by Congressman Jerry McNerney, Ph.D., and Martin Cheek (AMACOM; August 2011; $27.95; ISBN: 978-0-8144-1372-2).

Author Bios
Congressman Jerry McNerney, Ph.D., co-author of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels, was elected to California's 11th congressional district in November 2006. Reelected in 2008 and 2010, he is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment; and the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Prior to his time in Congress, he served as an energy consultant for Pacific Gas and Electric, FlowWind, and the Electric Power Research Institute. He lives in Pleasanton, California.

Martin Cheek, co-author of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels, has been a journalist for more than two decades specializing articles on the latest developments in science and the high-tech industry. He lives in Morgan Hill, California.

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