After spending a week in Berlin, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has apparently discovered Germany's energiewende, the country's ambitious transition to clean energy, because he makes this bold prediction in Wednesday’s paper: “Germany will be Europe’s first green, solar-powered superpower.”
While the United States's solar and wind industries generally get caught in political manuevering, Germany invested aggressively and early in solar power by subsidizing installations. Per person, Germany's installed solar power puts sunny California to shame. The demand created by energiewende is largely credited with luring China into solar manufacturing, which in turn drove down the cost of installations, prompting even more growth. Today, nearly one-third of Germany's power grid is renewable—twice America's rate—and in some regions it is as high as 40 percent.
Friedman is impressed: "And all this in a country whose northern tip is the same latitude as the southern tip of Alaska!” Moreover, he writes, Germany has Europe's biggest economy. Although the country is ambivalent—for obvious historical reasons—about its growing power, Friedman writes, “I don’t see how Germany avoids exercising more leadership."
Of course, becoming a true superpower would require not only a powerful military, which Germany has (to an extent), but also the willingness to use it, which Germany hasn't shown. And not everyone would like that to change—for Germany to, in Friedman's words, "overcome its deeply ingrained post-World War II pacifism and become a more serious, activist global power."
Brookings Institution foreign policy fellow Jeremy Shapiro tweeted:
The most dangerous thing any country can do is allow Friedman to spend a week ruminating on your place in the world http://t.co/o5Bi8SzZCq— Jeremy Shapiro (@JyShapiro) May 6, 2015
American conservatives push the narrative that solar and wind energy are for weak nations, and that coal and oil are the fuels needed to grow America's political and economic power. But climate change is likely to become a more serious global existential threat than anything that can be defeated with tanks and fighter jets. And at some point, probably over the next 100 years, coal and oil will cede its market dominance to solar power. So Germany is smart, not just environmentally but economically, to be aggressive on green energy. Whether it should start being aggressive in other ways is another story altogether.