With the turn of the 20th century, New York City was served with an electric-taxi company . In the 1800s, windmills helped to transform the American West, which provided for irrigation and set the stage for wind power’s revival in modern times. At the time, there was no guarantee that electricity would beat out less-polluting compressed air as a way to transmit energy over long distances. In the early 1900s, people in California were captivated by the potential of wave power, and solar water heaters were common then also.
Americans have been making efforts to go green for many years. However, people were attracted to cheaper alternatives and thus energy was relied on from fossil fuels instead. Green technology has essentially been available for over a century but it still supplies a small amount of America’s energy. The big question is why the United States developed an energy system and an economy built around fossil fuels like oil and coal instead of renewable power, or centralized electrical utilities rather than distributed generation.
A man named John Etzler wrote a book in the 1830s called The Paradise Within the Reach of All Men, Without Labor, by Powers of Nature and Machinery: An Address to All Intelligent Men. Etzler was a big supporter of the power of wind, the sun and the waves to power the United States, at a time when steam locomotives were starting to be built. These ideas have been around for years, they just weren’t being implemented.
The issue is that the proper technologies never received the support that they needed. American policy toward green energy has been always been all over the map, not just in recent times. In the 1970s, there was a surge of significant research on solar, wind and other alternatives forms of energy. This research was motivated by the sudden rise in energy costs and the realization that the environment was at risk. However, the research was stopped when Ronald Reagan was elected into office and oil prices dropped. Most of the opposition was from the Republican Party, which was unfortunate because scientists at the time were nearing breakthroughs in their research. Instead, nuclear power received large endowments from the government, and utilities in postwar times got the United States to latch onto cheap power, which led to the growth of air-conditioning, electronics, and the suburbs.
The opportunity for a greener way of life has always been there, it just got left behind in the wake of cheaper and easier alternatives. The result isn’t pretty and now is the time to push for these alternatives as we make efforts to reduce our carbon footprint every way we can. In order for this to happen, there’s got to be public research money and subsidies available for green energy from the government. Green innovators should be required to share their data publicly, so that if their efforts don’t work out we can learn from the work that people are doing and continue to work toward eco-friendly solutions.