My fellow Americans:

For tonight’s State-of-the-Union address, I’d like to share a vision with you all. A vision of a world where people work together to assure that fresh air, clean water, wholesome foods, and free, bountiful energy will be available for future generations as long as humankind exists.

This is called sustainability. Don’t we all want to live in this world? If we could make this vision real, what would it take?

Let’s begin with this thought: Imagine that a divine force endowed this planet with just enough fossilized energy from sunlight buried in the ground for our ancestors to dig up and burn so we could eat and stay warm. And this underground carbon-based fuel was meant to be an interim solution until we became smart enough to understand that burning this stuff had long-term consequences. Imagine that the divine plan for us all along was to get the energy we need directly from the sun.

Well folks, that day has arrived. We have survived those fossil-fuel burning days and we’re ready to start a new global era. We’re ready to make the transition to a sustainable civilization.

But this won’t happen overnight. It’ll take decades of work. And amidst the climatic and economic challenges that we will experience, it will be difficult to maintain our focus. Some familiar industries will change drastically. Some will vanish. But only a few centuries ago, people could become wealthy bytrading spices. Cinnamon, for crying out loud. So humankind has always adapted to these kinds of changes, and we’ll do it again.

The United States of America stands ready and able to do our part to help shepherd in this new global era. But in addition to time, it’ll also take public investment. Now I know my friends across the aisle aren’t gonna let us spend money we don’t have. And they shouldn’t. So I’d like to talk about money next.

First, I’m gonna ask Congress to begin to dial back that 4 billion dollars in annual US government subsidies to oil companies. Oil companies are making profits hand over fist now – which is great for them – but now they’re gonna have to pay their fair share. Second, I will ask Congress to pass a tax on the release of greenhouse gasses – especially carbon. Industries that make money while polluting our atmosphere are in effect making all of us bear the cost of their pollution in the form of climate change impacts. Those industries also need to pay their fair share of this cost.

So when we get this new revenue – without adding a dime to the deficit, I might add – how will we spend it? Here’s what I propose. Let’s call it the New Era Fund. Twenty-five cents of every dollar of the New Era Fund will go to building a “smart” – and more secure – 21st century nation-wide electricity distribution grid. That’s new jobs, too. And another twenty-five cents of every dollar of New Era Fund will go to jump-start the solar power industry like we’ve never done before. Think of it like an “Apollo Program” for renewable energy. That’s even more jobs.

And fifty cents of every New Era Fund dollar will go right back to you, the American taxpayers, in the form of rebates on your electricity bills, educational subsidies if you want to earn a degree or learn a skill that will help you get a job in the new era economy, and an earned income tax credit. Yep, we are gonna reduce taxes on your income and raise taxes on pollution. Not bad, huh?

Last point, it’s also time for us to pay more attention to our nation’s buildings. American auto makers have done a great job of improving fuel efficiency. But you might not realize that today the construction and operations of our buildings use more energy than our transportation.

The professional association for US architects – the American Institute of Architects – has a program called the AIA 2030 Commitment. This program helps architects design and renovate buildings that are increasingly energy efficient with the goal that by the year 2030, buildings will only use as much energy as they can produce. Imagine that. Buildings that produce energy. I like this program so much, that I am issuing an Executive Order requiring the General Services Administration – the nation’s largest building owner – to only hire architects who have signed the AIA 2030 Commitment.

So whaddya say, Congress? Let’s get this done.

This post originally appeared on the blog of Principal Mike Davis, FAIA.

Published Feb 02, 2014