This spring, Germans will celebrate the 20th anniversary of a groundbreaking policy that launched a renewable energy revolution in the country. Critics at the time said it couldn't be done. They were wrong. Today Germany produces nearly 50 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other renewables, creating hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs.
The policy was noteworthy for two reasons. The law's preamble stated that Germany would develop its own renewable resources so they would never be tempted to go to war over energy (The Germans know a thing or two about war and the consequences of trying to steal the resources of others). Their approach was novel, too. They opened their market to allow all German citizens the opportunity to profit from renewable energy — from Bavarian farmers to Berlin homeowners to budding entrepreneurs. In doing so, they created an industry where none existed before. One that was open to everyone, not just an elite few.
In the meantime, here in the United States, we've faltered. Only 11 percent of our nation's electricity comes from wind and solar, and the majority of that is owned by electric utilities or their subsidiaries, not the farmers or ranchers who live where the power plants are located. Laws — even those here in progressive California — limit how much solar we can put on our rooftops.
Worse, we've misdirected the nation's wealth during those two decades. In a recent study, a colleague and I found that if we'd spent the same amount of money on wind and solar that we've spent on our wars in the Middle East, we would not only be generating 100 percent of our electricity with renewables, but would have also provided battery backup. On top of all that, we would be powering up to half our passenger vehicles with electricity, eliminating the air pollution from burning gasoline and diesel fuel that chokes the San Joaquin Valley.
A decade ago Bernie Sanders was the only senator who understood what the Germans were doing and how we could do it here. He was the only one who would listen. I know, because I am the one who told him.
Sanders is a social democrat in the mold of FDR, and he understood the power of enlisting Americans — of all stripes — in creating a renewable revolution here.
Cynics say Sanders is unelectable. They say we're not up to it, that we can't tackle the big tasks anymore like changing the country's direction. Hogwash. They said the same thing about wind and solar energy four decades ago and look where we are today. Kern County — the most conservative county in the state — is a center of wind and solar development. And as Kern County faces the inexorable decline in its oil fortunes, our focus will continue to shift to renewables.
Some have lost faith in their fellow Americans. They wring their hands and whine that "it will never happen here." My retort? We're Americans. We can make it happen. We've done it before.
We helped defeat fascism when it looked unbeatable. They said we could never stop smoking. But we did. They said we would never elect a black man president. We're too racist, too bigoted, to do so. Yet we did. As Americans we've accomplished what was once unthinkable.
And, as Americans, we've admitted our mistakes, sometimes belatedly, but the arc of history shows that we've come around. As Churchill is rumored to have said, Americans will do the right thing, after they've exhausted every other possibility.
Sanders is the best shot in a generation to bring our troops home and make our country more resilient by developing our own energy resources — our renewable resources — for the direct benefit of Americans.
This is one of those moments when Americans are called on to make history. By voting for Sanders, we can create an economy and a society that works not only for those comfortable in their jobs or in their retirement, but an economy that for works for the rest of us.
Paul Gipe is the author of "Wind Energy for the Rest of Us" and a longtime renewable energy advocate.