The other day, I bought a copy of the magazine Foreign Policy at the local Borders and read the cover article on the “Axis of Upheaval.” After finishing it, I wanted to arm myself immediately, buy enough food for at least 40 years and construct a nuclear silo 20,000 leagues under the sea. World destruction seemed imminent. Then, I decided maybe the world’s fate wasn’t so dire — maybe Foreign Policy was just published by over-anxious war hawks. So I picked up a copy of the magazine Foreign Affairs and read about Russia’s rapid destabilization and anticipated battles in the Indian Ocean over sea control with burgeoning Indian and Chinese naval fleets.

At this point, I stopped reading and turned on the television. CNN was showing pictures of a glacier in Antarctica falling into the ocean as some really confused penguins stared on in disbelief.

I decided to take a nap. Between economic catastrophe, international destabilization and climate change, there isn’t much to be optimistic about these days.

America finds itself in a precarious position, surrounded by rising international powers as it negotiates a tricky financial crisis that has laid waste to the economy. But with every crisis comes opportunity, and I think that the Obama administration would do well to utilize this current meltdown to make some fundamental changes. No, I’m not advocating for universal health care, the nationalization of banks or redistributive wealth programs. But if the Obama administration focused on using this crisis to spur investment for new alternative-energy research or to help redesign our infrastructure for a future without petrol, then America could prepare to take an active role in world leadership on combating climate change.

It’s no secret that America hasn’t been smitten with climate change initiatives over the last two decades, declining to sign the Kyoto Protocol and emitting greenhouse gases at a rate greater than any other country except China. But with American businesses lining up outside the Congressional gates looking for bailout money, the Obama administration and Congress would have a perfect opportunity to help alter practices within large American companies. Normally, I’d be completely opposed to any government attempt at regulating big business beyond health and safety code. But in asymmetric economic conditions, when failed companies need taxpayer money to continue operating, I have no qualms with tying stipulations to bailout payments — stipulations that could require companies to devote a certain percentage of the bailout money to alternative energy research before receiving Uncle Sam’s check.

The government is already encouraging private action through General Motors and Segway’s new P.U.M.A. creation. Part-Segway, part golf cart and part-rickshaw, the P.U.M.A. attracted much attention during its recent beta test in New York City. This was obviously an attempt by General Motors to garner some positive PR, since many Americans view the car manufacturer’s troubles as a result of clueless management and cringe at the idea of taxpayer money being used to help subsidize GM operations. But the idea of using crises to help encourage new and innovative ideas is very important. Given high barriers to entry for vehicle manufacturing and energy development, the private market would be unlikely to produce new and innovative ideas without substantial subsidies. A project like the P.U.M.A. or the Chevy Volt could require large government investment to bring to market. Using the bailout money as a means of enticing change in America’s large companies would create an opportunity for new projects that could help prepare our infrastructure for the future.

To solve the climate change issue with any efficacy beyond mere political rhetoric or pieces of purely symbolic legislation, American private industry will have to fundamentally change. Whether that innovation begins with companies like GM spurred on by stipulations tied to bailout money or, perhaps more likely, with small entrepreneurial start-ups focused on fuel-cell or bio-mass energy is not important. What matters is that our government realizes that no solution to the climate change issues will come from congressional legislation, cap-and-trade systems or Al Gore documentaries. Any real solution to the climate change issue needs to disseminate directly from private industry, and this crisis is a perfect opportunity to begin that transformation.

Kent Hoffman is an LSA freshman.

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