Two factlets from Aspen Day 2 (updated)

After 12+ hours of talking, listening, interviewing, note-taking, absorbing, and finally movie-watching, I have two containable bits of info from this day's activities at the Ideas Festival.

On energy, a disturbing factlet. (And obviously not the only disturbing observation on the energy-and-climate front.) I heard three people separately observe that when it comes to future sources of "clean" energy, there is not a single field in which U.S. companies are the technical or market leaders. One person gave an informal ranking of the leaders this way:
   Solar-powered electricity (ie, photo-voltaic systems): Norway, Japan, China
   Solar-thermal systems (for heating water or buildings) Spain the leader in getting systems deployed
   Wind power: Holland, Denmark, China
   Geothermal power: nobody
   Nuclear power ("clean" in the carbon-footprint sense): France, Japan
   CCS, "Carbon capture and sequestration" (stripping out CO2 and burying it): Norway, Australia, Canada.

  This person said that his list was rough and ready, and that US firms were in a close second place in some fields. But the main point, he said, is that "American firms are acting as if there is not going to be a vital, profitable, globalized clean-tech industry a decade from now, and as if they don't care about competing in it." He had some other more hopeful things to say about how sustained investment could help close the gap. But the list itself was news to me.

Update: as I should have pointed out last night, my colleague Josh Green has chapter and verse on the "why is America losing the cleantech race?" question here, in a great piece in the new Atlantic.

On food, public health, and modern life in general, Robert Kenner's new movie Food, Inc, screened here this evening, really has the potential to move public opinion in the way Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed did two generations ago.

Corby Kummer did the definitive review of the movie earlier this month at the Atlantic's Food Channel. This evening he led a discussion with Kenner after the screening. Considered strictly as narrative or logical exposition, the film is a somewhat shaggy collection of stories rather than a relentlessly coherent presentation of a case. But the stories are so powerful, and so convincing, and in most cases so affecting in their humanity, that together they have a big effect. Most impressive to me is that while the movie was alarming, it was not discouraging. I think it will leave viewers with a sense of what they can do, as individuals and as citizens, to address the problems it lays out.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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