But at least two countries seem to be somewhat unaffected by the recent financial crisis. One is China, which is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury debt and now owns well over a trillion dollars of our country's debt. The other is Germany which has financed much of the bailout efforts for struggling EU partners.
The two countries owe their unusual success in this difficult global economy to very different sets of political and societal circumstances. But they have one thing in common: According to a United Nations report on renewable energy investments released this month, both Germany and China handily outspent the U.S. on renewable energies last year. Investments on technologies, such as wind farms and solar panels, totaled over $90 billion combined in China and Germany in 2010, compared to about $29 billion in the U.S.
The idea of promoting innovation and economic growth through environmental regulations and incentives, of course, is not new. In the U.S., we have heard similar proposals from commentators at various ends of the political spectrum, including columnist Tom Friedman and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. But given the severity of the economic situation in the U.S., it is surprising how little political consensus we have managed to achieve on similar political proposals. So while the recent efforts to kill Bush era requirements for more energy-efficient light bulbs may just be political posturing, they are also indicative of blind spots for the economic potential of sustainable technologies in the U.S. that our economic competitors in Europe and Asia are rapidly capitalizing on.